EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 497, Number 3, April III 2009
Page(s) 851 - 867
Section Planets and planetary systems
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/200810839
Published online 18 February 2009
A&A 497, 851-867 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200810839

Physical characteristics of very small meteoroids

J.-B. Kikwaya1, 2, M. Campbell-Brown2, P. G. Brown2, R. L. Hawkes3, and R. J. Weryk2

1  Vatican Observatory, 00120, Vatican City State, Italy
    e-mail: jbkikwaya@free.fr
2  Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St., London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada
3  Physics Department, Mount Allison University, 67 York St., Sackville, NB E4L 1E6, Canada

Received 21 August 2008 / Accepted 3 February 2009

We have optically recorded faint meteors using a large aperture LLLTV (low light level television) system based on second generation image intensifiers. These data consist of 42 two-station meteors of which 13 were captured during an observing campaign near London, Ontario (Canada) in May 2004, and 29 during a campaign near Kiruna (Sweden) in October 2007. Among 13 meteors recorded in the London campaign, where the baseline between the two sites was 5 km, only four meteors satisfied our requirement for complete lightcurves and deceleration profiles by starting in the field of view, of at least one station and also ending in the field of view of at least one station. From the second set of 29 meteors captured in Sweden, with a baseline of 117.7 km, only two satisfied these criteria. The cameras used in both campaigns had fields of view of 6 degrees, which with an assumed range of 100 km, gives a scale of 13 m/pixel at ~60 interlaced fields per second. This resolution allows precise measurement of the deceleration of very faint meteors. The limiting magnitude for meteors on these systems is near V = +8, while +11th magnitude stars are visible in the individual fields. The meteors detected in these two campaigns have peak brightnesses between absolute magnitude +6.2 and +7.4. Their photometric masses range from 4.2 mg to 0.35 mg. An ablation model was applied to fit each complete two-station event using the high-precision metric and photometric data as a constraint, in an attempt to compute bulk meteoroid densities. Interestingly, a large proportion of our faint meteor events were found to ablate at low altitudes, a result partly of our observing biases. The orbits of these events are consistent with either asteroidal or a Jupiter-family comet origin. The meteoroids' physical properties, as determined through model fits, suggest high densities, which favors an asteroidal interpretation. The high percentage of apparently dense asteroidal meteoroids at these small sizes may call into question earlier findings that only ~1% of meteoroids at these masses are asteroidal in origin. Our results are similar to others that find ~15% of faint TV meteors had spectra consistent with pure iron meteoroids. We find that many of these apparently asteroidal objects also undergo extensive fragmentation, which may reflect melting and spraying of droplets rather than mechanical fragmentation. Some individual cases in our small dataset will be highlighted where high bulk densities (approaching that of iron) are required to adequately match the end height, peak brightness, and observed deceleration. We speculate that these meteoroids may represent metallic condensates from impact-processed asteroid regolith.

Key words: meteors, meteoroids

© ESO 2009