# What is the temperature of the atmosphere at the height where meteors burn up and does that temperature significantly help cause the burning up?

What is the temperature of the atmosphere at the height where meteors burn up and does that temperature significantly help cause the burning up?

Inspired by this comment: "The question is flawed--nothing can possibly shed heat fast enough in the fire because there's no place to shed it to. Surviving the fire is accomplished by deflecting as much heat as possible (carried away in the shockwave) and slowing the entry of what gets through enough that you don't cook before it's over. – Loren Pechtel May 8 at 0:47" to this question: Is there a very light material that could deorbit without burning up?

## 2 Answers

Let's assume the following height for meteors:

Some meteors, such as the Perseids in August, burn up in the atmosphere at about 60 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface. Other meteors, such as the Draconids in October, fall to about 40 miles (70 km) before they heat up enough to glow and vaporize.

Then you can look up the corresponding temperature in your favourite atmospheric model. The following graph shows the U.S. Standard Atmosphere:

The meteors that look like shooting stars burn up in the mesosphere (31-53 miles / 50-86 km above sea level). At the mesopause, the upper boundary of the mesosphere, the temperature is the coldest on/above all of Earth, reaching minus 85 deg Celsius (minus 120 deg F). So the temperature doesn't really help, but tiny enough meteors at Earth escape velocity burn up anyway because of aerodynamic heating due to friction (on the outside and/or in the piston compressor) and due to supersonic flight. Larger, more massive and/or slower meteoroids make it down to the stratosphere or even to the ground.

• The aerodynamic heating IS NOT due to friction, it is due to compression. When air is compressed to 200 bar in a piston compressor, 3 or four compression steps followed by coolers are necessary to avoid too hot temperatures at the pistons.
– Uwe
May 11, 2021 at 12:14
• @Uwe That's another form of friction. But the heating is also due to supersonic flight, I'll add that. May 11, 2021 at 12:37
• Compression is not another form of friction, it is compression. Supersonic flight causes compression. The piston compressor was only an example, but you should not add that.
– Uwe
May 11, 2021 at 13:11
• 'the temperature is the coldest on/above all of Earth' also needs rework, as it does get colder, though not much, on the antarctic ice sheet.
– user40414
May 11, 2021 at 13:16
• @Uwe You can edit my answer if it's incorrect. May 11, 2021 at 13:29