Articles | Volume 8, issue 23
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 8, 7015–7031, 2008
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 8, 7015–7031, 2008

  05 Dec 2008

05 Dec 2008

A chemical model of meteoric ablation

T. Vondrak1, J. M. C. Plane1, S. Broadley1, and D. Janches2 T. Vondrak et al.
  • 1School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  • 2NorthWest Research Associates, CoRA Division, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Abstract. Most of the extraterrestrial dust entering the Earth's atmosphere ablates to produce metal vapours, which have significant effects on the aeronomy of the upper mesosphere and lower thermosphere. A new Chemical Ablation Model (CAMOD) is described which treats the physics and chemistry of ablation, by including the following processes: sputtering by inelastic collisions with air molecules before the meteoroid melts; evaporation of atoms and oxides from the molten particle; diffusion-controlled migration of the volatile constituents (Na and K) through the molten particle; and impact ionization of the ablated fragments by hyperthermal collisions with air molecules. Evaporation is based on thermodynamic equilibrium in the molten meteoroid (treated as a melt of metal oxides), and between the particle and surrounding vapour phase. The loss rate of each element is then determined assuming Langmuir evaporation. CAMOD successfully predicts the meteor head echo appearance heights, observed from incoherent scatter radars, over a wide range of meteoroid velocities. The model also confirms that differential ablation explains common-volume lidar observations of K, Ca and Ca+ in fresh meteor trails. CAMOD is then used to calculate the injection rates into the atmosphere of a variety of elements as a function of altitude, integrated over the meteoroid mass and velocity distributions. The most abundant elements (Fe, Mg and Si) have peak injection rates around 85 km, with Na and K about 8 km higher. The more refractory element Ca ablates around 82 km with a Na:Ca ratio of 4:1, which does therefore not explain the depletion of atomic Ca to Na, by more than 2 orders of magnitude, in the upper mesosphere. Diffusion of the most volatile elements (Na and K) does not appear to be rate-limiting except in the fastest meteoroids. Non-thermal sputtering causes ~35% mass loss from the fastest (~60–70 km s−1) and smallest (10−17–10−13 g) meteoroids, but makes a minor contribution to the overall ablation rate.

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