Effects of atmospheric breakup on crater field formation

  • Passey Q
  • Melosh H
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This paper investigates the physics of meteoroid breakup in the atmosphere and its implications for the observed features of strewn fields. There are several effects which cause dispersion of the meteoroid fragments: gravity, differential lift of the fragments, bow shock interaction just after breakup, centripetal separation by a rotating meteoroid, and possibly a dynamical transverse separation resulting from the crushing deceleration in the atmosphere. Of these, we show that gravity alone can produce the common pattern in which the largest crater occurs at the downrange end of the scatter ellipse. The average lift-to-drag ratio of the tumbling fragments must be less than about 10-3, otherwise small fragments would produce small craters downrange of the main crater, and this is not generally observed. The cross-range dispersion is probably due to the combined effects of bow shock interaction, crushing deceleration, and possibly spinning of the meteoroid. A number of terrestrial strewn fields are discussed in the light of these ideas, which are formulated quantitatively for a range of meteoroid velocities, entry angles, and crushing strengths. It is found that when the crater size exceeds about 1 km, the separation between the fragments upon landing is a fraction of their own diameter, so that the crater formed by such a fragmented meteoroid is almost indistinguishable from that formed by a solid body of the same total mass and velocity. © 1980.

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  • Quinn R. Passey

  • H. J. Melosh

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