UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Why do Meteors only burn in the mesosphere?
Question Date: 2020-11-11
Answer 1:

Meteors burn once they reach the mesosphere because that is the first part of the atmosphere with a non-negligible density of gas molecules. Although the air is still thin in the mesosphere, there is enough to cause friction and therefore heat for meteors passing through.

The higher layers of the atmosphere (thermosphere; most of the ionosphere; and the exosphere, which is nearly outer space) have almost nothing - not gas molecules or particles like dust - that could the meteor need to push through, and therefore nothing to cause the friction that heats up and then burns the meteor.

Interestingly, the thermosphere is "hot", in that it can reach 4500F, but doesn't heat things within it because there are no molecules (such as air) to transfer the heat to those objects. Also, a meteor is only a meteor while it is in the mesosphere and lit up. The remnant of a meteor that is not completely burned in the atmosphere and reaches Earth's surface is called a meteorite, and while in outer space the small piece of rock is called a meteoroid. Meteoroids are formed when a piece is knocked off of an asteroid or a comet.

Answer 2:

The reason why meteors usually burn up in the mesosphere is because the air in the mesosphere is dense enough that the meteor's moving through it creates a lot of heat (unlike the ionosphere), but the meteor doesn't survive long enough to reach the even denser stratosphere, let alone the denser yet troposphere. However, the larger and denser a meteor itself is, the longer it will last, and a meteor that is large or dense enough will make it into the stratosphere, the troposphere, or, if it is quite large or dense, it may even strike the ground.

Answer 3:

Meteorites are meteors that hit the earth. Here's a link about a meteorite that was a fireball when it exploded close to earth. It was probably below the mesosphere when it exploded.

Here is a link about meteors burning:

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use