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Differential Ablation of Cosmic Dust and Implications for the Relative Abundances of Atmospheric Metals

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Scientific rept. no. 5

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Metals in the Earths atmosphere are of interest and importance for several reasons. Emission lines from the sodium layer are used for wave front corrections in imaging space objects. The ionospheric metals present background contamination for remote sensing and tracking of space- born objects. Ionization during meteor showers may also interfere with communications. Although it is generally accepted that extraterrestrial material is the source of metals in the atmospheric, the relative abundances of mesospheric metals and ions present us with a conundrum. Lidar observations have consistently shown that the abundances of neutral metals in the atmospheric and the abundances of these metals in the meteoric material that falls to earth are significantly disproportionate. For example, the column density of neutral sodium is perhaps two orders of magnitude larger than that of calcium, while the abundances in meteorites are approximately equal. To complicate matters further, ion mass spectroscopy has shown that the abundances of the meteoric ions match reasonably well those in the meteorites. We present here a model that attempts to address these discrepancies. At the heart of the model is the concept of differential ablation, which suggests that more volatile metals sublimate earlier in the descent of a cosmic dust particle than do the less volatile components. The modeling is carried out comprehensively, beginning with the heating and vaporization of the dust particles. The vaporization rate is computed as a function of altitude from an ensemble of particles to give a deposition function which is then injected into a fully time-dependent kinetic code which allows for vertical diffusion and includes diurnal dependence through both the models of the major atmospheric components and through transport of the ions due to electric fields.

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  • Astronomy
  • Atmospheric Physics
  • Physical Chemistry

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