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Impacts on the Asteroid in Earth's Atmosphere

1. Due to friction with the Earth's atmosphere, a large static electric charge could build up on our plummeting asteroid fragment. Would you expect our fragment to generate a magnetic field? Explain why or why not.

2. As the fragment falls through the atmosphere, it is heated and some of the material is vaporized. Explain how you could determine the composition of this hot vaporized material from the light it emits.

3. Some asteroid fragments are large enough to not completely burn up in the atmosphere and they end up on the surface of the Earth. It is possible for such a fragment to be radioactive. What is the chief cause of radioactivity? If you had a radiation detector that could measure the amount of radiation - but not the type of radiation - how could you determine which type of radiation was being emitted?

4. Conservation of energy tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Clearly, energy is required for radioactivity to occur. Where is this energy coming from?

5. How could the age of this fragment be determined?

6. Asteroids can be classified into two broad groups based on their composition and location: carbon-rich asteroids dominate the outer part of the asteroid belt, whereas metal-rich asteroids dominate the inner part of the belt. Analysis of the fragment we have discussed in this project reveals that it contains nearly equal amounts of metals and carbon. Can we conclude that the original asteroid had a similar composition? Form a hypothesis about the origin of this asteroid based on the available information.

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Solution Preview

1) In theory, we can look at the asteroid gaining a large static electric charge as one giant particle with a static electric charge. Furthermore, we can look at it as a rapidly moving charge through air, which satisfies the criteria of the asteroid being a moving charge.

If that's the case, it should be capable of producing a magnetic field, as it produces its own "current" by moving through the air. Magnetic fields are often defined as fields capable of moving electrically charged particles (or inherently magnetic substances). Often this requires a current, let's say through a copper wire, to achieve, but in this case we have a giant mass of charge moving quickly through air. The precise magnitude of the field will depend on the speed and charge of the asteroid, which will likely vary at any moment in time.

2) Different substances, when burned, emit different spectra of visible light. For example, sodium burns yellow and copper burns blue/green. As a result, the flame that is associated with the burning of the asteroid's surface via ...

Solution Summary

The Solution addresses the hypothetical situation of an impact of an asteroid in Earth's atmosphere.