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Shooting stars suspected of climate meddling

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Meteors might play a bigger role in regulation of our climate than previously thought.

The latest observations of an asteroid disintegrating as it entered the atmosphere suggest that the resulting cloud is composed of larger pieces of material than expected. The asteroid released as much energy as a nuclear bomb on its way through the atmosphere, according to Scientific American.

Scientists, led by Andrew Klekociuk of the Australian Antarctic Division, studied the progress of the million-kilogram shooting star in unprecedented detail, using visible light and infra-red observation equipment on orbiting satellites.

Klekociuk and his colleagues found fragments of asteroid as large as 20 micrometres across in the resulting dust cloud, big enough to have an impact on the climate.

Particles between 0.05 micrometres and one micrometre scatter light and radiation, aiding atmospheric reactions. Since the dust from chunks of rock from space, which stays in the atmosphere for weeks, and sometimes months, meteors could play a significant part in both Ozone depletion, and in altering the global energy balance, the researchers say.

More work is needed to determine whether these results are typical. The findings are published in Nature. ®

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