Estimates of the daily mass input of interplanetary dust particles into the Earth’s atmosphere range from 5 to 300 tonnes per day. The ablation of those meteoroid particles, as they enter the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds between $\sim$10 km/s and 72 km/s, is manifested as meteors. Despite a very long history of meteor science, our understanding of meteor ablation and its shocked plasma physics is still far from satisfactory as we are still missing the microphysics of meteor shock formation and its plasma dynamics. Here we argue that electrons and ions in the meteor plasma undergo spatial separation due to electrons being trapped by gyration in the Earth’s magnetic field, while the ions are carried by the meteor as their dynamics is dictated by collisions. This separation process charges the meteor and creates a strong local electric field. We show how acceleration of protons in this field leads to the collisional excitation of ionospheric N$_2$ on the scale of many 100 m. This mechanism explains the puzzling large halo detected around a Leonid meteor, while it also fits into the theoretical expectations of several other unexplained meteor related phenomena. We expect our work to lead to more advanced models of meteor-ionosphere interaction, combined with the electrodynamics of meteor trail evolution.
A. Siljic, F. Lunic, J. Teklic, et. al.
Thu, 20 Apr 17
Comments: The initial version of this manuscript was submitted to Nature Astronomy on August 1, 2016, a revised version submitted on January 3, 2017, and finally rejected on March 15, 2017. It is currently under revision for submission to another journal