Physics Question #142

Denise Atkins, a 13 year old female from the Internet asks on February 28, 2000,

What causes asteroids to burn up once they enter earth's atmosphere?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on February 28, 2000

Air. Air molecules rubbing against a very fast moving object, even if it is made of metal or rock, will heat the object so much that it will burn up. Objects that are really big may be able to resist being entirely burnt, and can make it right to Earth.

Asteroids are typically very big and would not burn up. You are probably thinking of meteorites. The space shuttle has a very special ceramic tile coating so that it will not burn up on re-entry.

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