How much space debris falls into Earth’s atmosphere every year?

Has anyone ever calculated the combined tonnage of meteroids and space debris falling into our atmosphere yearly?

Geminid fireball

During the 2004 Geminid meteor shower, Alan Dyer caught a bright fireball with a tripod-mounted digital camera. He used a wide-field, 16-mm lens for a 1-minute exposure at f/2.8 with an ISO setting of 800. Expect to shoot a lot of frames before you get this lucky.

Yes, but it's hard because different methods are needed for different particle sizes. Ground radar and exposed spacecraft surfaces are best for detecting the very smallest bits, whereas photographic surveys have been used for particles large enough to create meteors visible to the eye.

Consequently, there's debate over how much arrives as a continuous rain of ground-up dust versus occasional large impactors. All things considered, says meteor specialist Peter Brown (University of Western Ontario), roughly 40,000 metric tons of interplanetary matter strike Earth's atmosphere every year. But few events actually yield meteorites: only five or six space stones weighing at least 1kg will hit an area the size of Texas each year.

— J. Kelly Beatty

All comments must follow the Sky & Telescope Terms of Use and will be moderated prior to posting. Please be civil in your comments. Sky & Telescope reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter’s username, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

COMMENT