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What are the mechanisms used to avoid destruction of space probes and satellites during meteor showers? Are they affected by them?

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migrated from astronomy.stackexchange.com Oct 4 '16 at 17:03

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    $\begingroup$ Might be space exploration, not here, but the short answer is, 1) it can be a problem and 2) meteor showers are so hugely spread out that collisions are rare. See article: washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1998/11/15/… (If nobody else answers this I could turn this into an answer, but I'm not an expert on the subject). $\endgroup$ – userLTK Aug 14 '16 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure either, but the fact that meteors are tiny (~small pebbles/grains of sand), would probably help, too? $\endgroup$ – nataliaeire Aug 14 '16 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ @nataliaeire when we watch a meteor shower, we're seeing grain of sand sized objects flash across the sky about once a minute during a peak shower, but the "visible range where meteors hit the atmosphere, is a circle about 100 km in radius. If 1 grain of sand hits a circle some 31,400 square KM only once a minute, that gives you an idea of how spread out a meteor storm is. That said, if a grain of sand sized meteor actually hits a satellite, it could do some damage, cause they're moving 10-70 times as fast as a bullet. $\endgroup$ – userLTK Aug 15 '16 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ @userLTK Yes, I was thinking about that, which is why I didn't feel like putting it as an answer. However, the fact that they are small implies the cross section is smaller, thus helping towards the rare collisions. Maybe. Not sure how much of an effect that would be. $\endgroup$ – nataliaeire Aug 15 '16 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ Space is big, meteors are tiny $\endgroup$ – adrianmcmenamin Aug 29 '16 at 19:39
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Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space, listen...

Okay, obligatory Hitchhiker's Guide quote out of the way, that's the essence of why they're not destroyed. Space is big, satellites are small, and a meteor shower is incredibly sparse. Even an incredibly dense shower like the Leonids (~1000 meteors/hour) is still only around one meteor per 15,000 square kilometers per minute; a typical satellite has only a 0.0000001% chance of being hit during any given one-minute period.

There's also the size of the meteors to consider. That bright streak you just saw flash across the sky? It's the size of a grain of sand. Yes, it's moving fast enough to cause damage, but it won't "destroy" a satellite, it'll put a small crater in whatever it hits. For example, it might destroy a single cell in a solar panel: annoying, but hardly fatal.

Some precautions are taken (for example, during the Perseids, the Hubble Space Telescope isn't looking anywhere near Perseus), but mostly it's a matter of playing the odds.

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