The University of Arizona

The beginning heights and light curves of high-altitude meteors

Pavel Koten, Pavel Spurný, Jiří Borovička, Stephen Evans, Andrew Elliott, Hans Betlem, Rostislav Štork, Klaas Jobse


In this paper, we provide an overview of meteors with high beginning height. During the recent Leonid meteor storms, as well as within the regular double station video observations of other meteor showers, we recorded 164 meteors with a beginning height above 130 km. We found that beginning heights between 130 and 150 km are quite usual, especially for the Leonid meteor shower. Conversely, meteors with beginning heights above 160 km are very rare even among Leonids. From the meteor light curves, we are able to distinguish two different processes that govern radiation of the meteors at different altitudes. Light curves vary greatly above 130 km and exhibit sudden changes in meteor brightness. Sputtering from the meteoroid surface is the dominating process during this phase of the meteor luminous trajectory. Around 130 km, the process switches to ablation and the light curves become similar to the light curves of standard meteors. The sputtering model was successfully applied to explain the difference in the beginning heights of high-altitude Leonid and Perseid meteors. We show also that this process in connection with high altitude fragmentation could explain the anomalously high beginning heights of several relatively faint meteors.


Leonides Meteor shower;Meteors;Meteoroids;Meteor shower

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