Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why do Meteorites burn up?

  1. Jun 18, 2010 #1
    Most people say it is due to friction with the atmosphere, however I have read that this is a misconception and that the majority of the heating effect comes from the rapid compression of the air infront of the meteorite as it travels at very high speeds. Which is the right answer please. (from a trainee Physics teacher)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2010 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    It's from a claim that it's only friction if the air flows around something (air resistance/drag is a fluid dynamics phenomena) while at the speed of a meteor it's simply momentum transfer of it hitting air molecules and accelerating them to mach 30 (or whatever the meteor is doing)

    Personally I think it's just pedantry/hair-splitting
  4. Jun 19, 2010 #3
    There is probably some element of the plasma produced at the front of the meteor super-heating material, but that's because of friction so... yeah, what mgb_phys said in his last sentence. Maybe the compression in the front and around the "nose" of the meteor can produce shocks that break a meteor, but that's not the same as heating.

    In the end, the falling object is going to be enveloped in superheated plasma, so however the fluid dynamics play out, there is going to be heating even on the "tail" of the meteor.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook