Letter

Nature 436, 1132-1135 (25 August 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03881; Received 16 March 2005; Accepted 1 June 2005

Meteoritic dust from the atmospheric disintegration of a large meteoroid

Andrew R. Klekociuk1, Peter G. Brown2, Dee W. Pack3, Douglas O. ReVelle4, W. N. Edwards2, Richard E. Spalding5, Edward Tagliaferri3, Bernard B. Yoo3 & Joseph Zagari1

  1. Space and Atmospheric Sciences, Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia
  2. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 3K7, Canada
  3. The Aerospace Corporation, 2350 E. El Segundo Blvd, El Segundo, California 90245-4691, USA
  4. Los Alamos National Laboratory, PO Box 1663, MS J577, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545, USA
  5. Sandia National Laboratory, Org. 5740, MS 0973, PO Box 5800, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185, USA

Correspondence to: Andrew R. Klekociuk1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.R.K. (Email: andrew.klekociuk@aad.gov.au).

Much of the mass of most meteoroids entering the Earth's atmosphere is consumed in the process of ablation. Larger meteoroids (> 10 cm), which in some cases reach the ground as meteorites, typically have survival fractions near 1–25 per cent of their initial mass1. The fate of the remaining ablated material is unclear, but theory suggests that much of it should recondense through coagulation as nanometre-sized particles2. No direct measurements of such meteoric 'smoke' have hitherto been made3. Here we report the disintegration of one of the largest meteoroids to have entered the Earth's atmosphere during the past decade, and show that the dominant contribution to the mass of the residual atmospheric aerosol was in the form of micrometre-sized particles. This result is contrary to the usual view that most of the material in large meteoroids is efficiently converted to particles of much smaller size through ablation4. Assuming that our observations are of a typical event, we suggest that large meteoroids provide the dominant source of micrometre-sized meteoritic dust at the Earth's surface over long timescales.

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