MSU professor explains how meteors enter Earth's atmosphere

POSTED: 8:17 PM Feb 15 2013
Russian meteor
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Solar physicists at Montana State University told NBC Montana the meteor that exploded Russia could have been worse.

NBC Montana sat down with professor Charles Kankleborg of the solar science department at MSU to help explain what exactly happened over Russia.

"Generally when a fairly large one like this comes in it tends to air burst," he said. "It blows up in the sky with fragments coming down."
 
Kankleborg tells us meteors can be made of various metals, like iron and nickle and other material like stone.

He says once an object in space enters the Earth's atmosphere, it's called a meteor.

"A meteor is a piece of debris entering the Earth's atmosphere and makes a bright streak in the sky. If there are fragments that land on the ground we call those meteorites."

He explained to us that objects from space fall into our atmosphere and hit earth every day. It's difficult for scientists, even at NASA, to track these type of events.

"We see space stuff falling on us all the time really," he said. "There's always dust coming down."

Kankleborg says the northwest had a close encounter with a meteor back in 1972, when one zipped across the sky in a giant fireball."

"Visible from Montana, but it was a bright fire ball in the sky and apparently that one lost a bit of material to Earth's atmosphere."

That's an encounter Kankleborg says Montanans will probably remember.