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Why Do Objects Burn as They Enter Earth’s Atmosphere?



One extremely important consideration that goes into the engineering of spaceships is their ability to withstand the heat of reentry. Pushing through the Earth’s atmosphere causes extreme temperatures that can burn up manmade objects and space debris alike. What causes this fiery phenomenon?

1. It’s not about friction, and it’s not about height.
It’s logical to think that friction is the driving force behind all this heat, but in fact it only plays a role closer to the ground where the atmosphere is more dense. Higher up, where meteors streak across the sky and spacecraft return from missions, friction and altitude have very little to do with reentry burning.



2. Velocity is the main factor.
If not friction and height, then what? The answer is velocity and compression. Incoming objects are moving at incredible speeds, and as they do they’re compressing the air in front of them. According to the gas laws of chemistry, compressing a gas heats it up, and there’s a whole lot of compressing going on during reentry. It’s this reaction that causes heat to be generated, and few things can stay intact in that heat unless we make them specifically for the purpose (or they’re way too big, like giant asteroids).



3. This is why heat shields are so important.
NASA has beaten the heat with heat shields, which are designed to withstand the extremes they’re exposed to. Sadly, this doesn’t always avert tragedy. The Columbia space shuttle disaster was a result of a heat shield failure. The shield was damaged and upon reentry, the atmospheric gases broke the shuttle apart.
 
Nov 17, 2020
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One extremely important consideration that goes into the engineering of spaceships is their ability to withstand the heat of reentry. Pushing through the Earth’s atmosphere causes extreme temperatures that can burn up manmade objects and space debris alike. What causes this fiery phenomenon?

1. It’s not about friction, and it’s not about height.
It’s logical to think that friction is the driving force behind all this heat, but in fact it only plays a role closer to the ground where the atmosphere is more dense. Higher up, where meteors streak across the sky and spacecraft return from missions, friction and altitude have very little to do with reentry burning.



2. Velocity is the main factor.
If not friction and height, then what? The answer is velocity and compression. Incoming objects are moving at incredible speeds, and as they do they’re compressing the air in front of them. According to the gas laws of chemistry, compressing a gas heats it up, and there’s a whole lot of compressing going onintroducedeentry. It’s this reaction that causes heat to be generated, and few things can stay intact in that heat unless we make them specifically for the purpose (or they’re way too big, like giant asteroids).



3. This is why heat shields are so important.
NASA has beaten the heat with heat shields, which are designed to withstand the extremes they’re exposed to. Sadly, this doesn’t always avert tragedy. The Columbia space shuttle disaster was a result of a heat shield failure. The shield was damaged and upon reentry, the atmospheric gases broke the shuttle apart.
I think the speed they are traveling at that point is faster than time in our atmosphere so once it does get introduced to our atmosphere I believe that's what happens they incinerate
 
Jun 1, 2020
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The interesting thing about meteoroids upon entry to our atmosphere is that most all that heat is dissipated by the surface of the meteoroid and it continually peels away so that when it impacts it is still very cold. This heat removal is called ablation.
 
Nov 2, 2020
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Anyway, I think that even temperature is important here. I only want to say that is something of worth remember that if you mix some elements together you'll get something of the greatest importance. Here, I'm wondering, if pressure and speed were come with by temperature, what would it happen? And then, the objects that fall down like asteroid don't have this shield!
 
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Nov 2, 2020
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I'm unclear what you are asking. The speed causes the air to pressurize as it struggles to move out of the way (a form of friction). With an increase in pressure comes the increase in temperature, which we see in the Ideal Gas law.
Yes, I was unclear. I have made a sentence very simple in an hard way. I only wanted to say that asteroids that fall down don't have any shields, and for this reason they are affected by temperature. Unfortunately this is only the beginning, in fact there is also something else to say about it. As you said, the temperature cause the asteroids to give up the outer layers and this phenomenon is called abberration. Though, this isn't the only force that act on the asteroids, because on it acts also the pressure. This is all, I hope now to was clear. Oh, I nearly forgot, there is something to say about the last post of mine: I don't know why I spoke about the speed, here it doens't matter.
 
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