Map tracks path of dust plume from Chelyabinsk meteor

Satellite data capture how jet stream pushed particles through planet's atmosphere

GETTING AROUND  The meteor that exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February created a particle plume (red and yellow) that eventually wrapped around the Northern Hemisphere.

NASA GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio

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When an 11,000-metric-ton meteor ripped through Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013, it left behind a streak of dust that encircled the planet, satellite data show.

The space rock, which was 18 meters across, sped through the sky at nearly 66,900 kilometers per hour (41,600 miles per hour) and exploded — with 30 times the energy of a World War II atom bomb — in the stratosphere about 23 kilometers above Chelyabinsk, Russia. An instrument on the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite detected the particle plume from the explosion and began tracking it as it rapidly moved east, reaching the Aleutian Islands in just a day.

Using the satellite data and atmospheric models, NASA atmospheric physicist Nick Gorkavyi and his colleagues then mapped how the particle plume morphed as the jet stream carried it around the Northern Hemisphere.

In four days, the smaller, lighter particles wound their way around the hemisphere and back to Chelyabinsk. And three months after the explosion, scientists could still detect the meteor’s dust encircling Earth.

The meteor that ripped through the sky on February 15, 2013, left behind a particle plume that encircled the Earth in a mere four days. NASA scientists used data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite and atmospheric models to map the plume.
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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