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Green Fireballs???


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Hi all,

Given the recent 'fall" (meteor) in Washington/Oregon area I figured I'd pose a question that I haven't been able to research thouroughly.

What does it mean when a meteor fireball is green? Why is it green? and is this because of a high iron content? I asked this same question of a highly intelligent, and rather flamboyant meteorite expert, and he said that it is in fact due to a high iron content... ;) I figured it was a good question to pose to the group too so here it is.

Why are some meteors green, while others are red, orange, yellow etc... What make them the colors they are? Is it due to chemical properties, atmospheric effect, a mysterious phenomena, a combination of all?

Eric

MW

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Well I don't know jack about them, but if you put pure copper in a fire, you get green fire. I say a copper nickle mix maybe? Seem like it would work more than iron, it just glows or turns red. Maybe J.B. knows he's the expert. Grubstake

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Hi Eric:

I've seen a couple meteors with green tails streaking through the sky also. I'm certainly no expert on this but my guess is they contain traces of copper which will give off a green flame when vaporized. Some meteorites that have been found are known to have contain substantial amounts of copper which would no doubt produce a green tail upon entry. :twocents:

As far as the meteor with red tails - that could be an indication of strontium content. The yellow tails- sodium. The white tails- iron and magnesium. The orange- no clue. Their may be other factors also but usually the composition will determine the color :twocents:

Steve

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Hi All

Grubstake Thanks for your vote of confidence but :innocent0009: ?? I Donno :confused0013: ?? I believe the tint colors of the fire ball is due to composition as Steve says :hmmmmmm: ?? But I'm unaware of any space rocks with high amounts of copper :shrug: . I know franconia's contain a very small amount of copper :smrt1: ?? I think ?? Happy Huntin John B.

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Hi All

Grubstake Thanks for your vote of confidence but :innocent0009: ?? I Donno :confused0013: ?? I believe the tint colors of the fire ball is due to composition as Steve says :hmmmmmm: ?? But I'm unaware of any space rocks with high amounts of copper :shrug: . I know franconia's contain a very small amount of copper :smrt1: ?? I think ?? Happy Huntin John B.

John, I believe it's composition. Of course. But my question is what makes it burns green? The temp? Is it composition alone regardless of temp, or a combination of temp and comp? If it's an iron that burns green then, why? If it burns bright red does that mean it's a low iron chondrite?

The mineral composition of all meteorites are different. The heat needed to "burn" a meteoroid and create the meteor in combination with the mineral will obviously change the color. What makes iron burn green? :hmmmmmm: :shrug:

IRON = GREEN?

MAGNESIUM = WHITE?

I bet if someone researched a fireworks company they could find out what minerals burn at what color and temp... ;) I watched a show on the Science channel about a fireworks company one time and I wasn't really paying much attention at the time but they were talking about all the different minerals and how they burn at different colors and at different temperatures. I bet they're experts on it! Off to go check it out...

Following that logic you think it would apply to meteorites? Minerals are minerals right?

Eric

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I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the chemical composition of the meteorite. I know there's certain types of spectrometers (scientific instrument) that will basically heat things up and whatever color light is produced is measured and the chemical composition is determined from that. I would imagine the same concept applies to meteorites.

Del

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Del is right. if you take any element in a liquid form, dip a popsickle stick in it and put it infront of a torch it will burn a certain color. Thats basically what a spectrograph is.

i think in rocks from space it says that high nickle content causes the green glow.

[Erik]

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Yea, that fireball really pizzed me off as I was trying to drift back to sleep after the cat dragged her tail across my face. Suddenly, a bright flash like some creep was taking a snapshot of my bedroom through the window at about 5:30 AM. I remarked to the wife that "I can't see anybody out there, maybe big brother (the fed) is getting out of hand"! All I got was a "go back to sleep" groan. Went back to sleep none the wiser about the meteor / possible meteorite.

Apparently it came down somewhere between 50 and 100 miles sw of me. From watching the news films, it exploded before hitting the ground. I'm thinking there are lots of little ones out there as a result. Now how do I ferret that little devil out? The area consists of millions of acres of rolling wheat fields.

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Eric,

There is a paragraph in this link that explains some of the reasons for the colors that you see when a meteor is descending toward earth, after entering the earths atmosphere.

http://www.astropix.com/HTML/I_ASTROP/TRIPOD/TRIPOD6.HTM

Jim

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Eric,

There is a paragraph in this link that explains some of the reasons for the colors that you see when a meteor is descending toward earth, after entering the earths atmosphere.

http://www.astropix.com/HTML/I_ASTROP/TRIPOD/TRIPOD6.HTM

Jim

Great article Jim... Thanks!

It basically says the colors are due to high velocity at "high altitude" and is caused by ionization of the gas/air molecules. Which is correct! But... The meteor I saw, and the Washington meteor was green at a much lower altitude than described in the article. The articles angle is that generally speaking ALL meteors exhibit this green to red color change.

"The color is a result of the meteor entering the Earth's atmosphere at a high velocity and ionizing air molecules that glow for several seconds. The glow starts as green because the meteor enters the atmosphere at a very high altitude where the primary color comes from oxygen at 5577 angstroms. The color changes to red lower in the atmosphere from nitrogen emissions between 6200 and 6700 angstroms."

Hmmm... :hmmmmmm:

Now I've done some more research on minerals, chemicals, and other things and found this: http://chemistry.about.com/library/weekly/aa062701a.htm

This article gives info on chemical compounds and what colors they make when burned at high temps. It's good info, but the article is directed more towards the chemicals that make the colors, and not so much the temps and physics involved.

Meteors are obviously different from fireworks in that fireworks are shot into the air and are burned to create colorful light displays, where meteors come from outside our atmosphere and generates a tremendous amount of heat from velocity and friction creating the meteor phenomenon. Do the same types of chemical compounds used to make one color firework display match (chemically speaking) to that of any given meteor?

The Washington meteor for example, was coming in at an extremely sharp angle and was green at what appeared to be a much lower altitude than the description given by the article, leading me to believe that it was more than altitude and velocity that caused the greenish blue colors. People heard the static "popping and crackling" of meteor! Does this mean it was at lower altitude? People saw the meteor explode and are reported to have felt the concusion from the blast. Would you "feel" the concussion if the meteor was at higher altitude?

A very long time ago, back in my late teens, I think I was around 19 or so, my brother and I were in a boat fishing at night in a river in Florida. It was pitch black outside, and so quiet we could here people talking on a fishing bridge 3 miles away. It was extremely calm and peaceful, and then the sky lit up bright green like you flipped a switch. The entire area was bathed in green light. "It turned night to day" as they say. We looked up because we heard the popping, fizzling, crackling sound and saw a fantastically bright green meteor streaking over our heads. It "seemed" to be very close, we saw the dark trail of smoke left behind it, and it appeared to have fallen nearby. I know now it could be hundreds of miles from where we saw it if it didn't burn up completely. It was a spectacular site to see to say the least.

Anyway, I'm rambling and won't bore you guys with more meteor stories. I guess my point and question still remains. :hmmmmmm: Is it simply "iron burning" which make the green color?

Eric

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Greetings Eric and all you crazed meteorite hunters,

Great question and great thread. I was curoious to the answer myself so I dug out my book "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites" by Ol Richard Norton. I figured if anyone had an answer to the question, he would.

On page 35 he states: "As much as 95% of the light from a fireball is from ionized atmospheric gases, primarily nitrogen and oxygen."

Two paragraphs further down which include page 35 and 36 he writes: "Colors are often reported from fireballs. Intense blue-white, emerald green, yellow and red are the most commonly reported hues. When vaporized and ionized, many elements give off diagnostic colors. Magnesium burns with a blue-white light, sodium, a yellow light; calcium, orange-red; copper, green. Oxygen can emit a red glow and molecular nitrogen a green glow. The colors often vary over the path of the fireball, usually starting out as an intense blue-white and then turning to an orange or red toward the end of its visible path. Since the composition of the atmosphere and the meteorid does not vary, the color change must be the result of the rapid cooling of the solid body as it decelerates."

There you have it from the expert. The way I read it, copper in a meteorid could cause the green light but the ionization of the nitrogen in the atmosphere is more likely the main cause.

Happy hunting,

Bob Boorx4

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:innocent0002:

Greetings Eric and all you crazed meteorite hunters,

Great question and great thread. I was curoious to the answer myself so I dug out my book "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites" by Ol Richard Norton. I figured if anyone had an answer to the question, he would.

On page 35 he states: "As much as 95% of the light from a fireball is from ionized atmospheric gases, primarily nitrogen and oxygen."

Two paragraphs further down which include page 35 and 36 he writes: "Colors are often reported from fireballs. Intense blue-white, emerald green, yellow and red are the most commonly reported hues. When vaporized and ionized, many elements give off diagnostic colors. Magnesium burns with a blue-white light, sodium, a yellow light; calcium, orange-red; copper, green. Oxygen can emit a red glow and molecular nitrogen a green glow. The colors often vary over the path of the fireball, usually starting out as an intense blue-white and then turning to an orange or red toward the end of its visible path. Since the composition of the atmosphere and the meteorid does not vary, the color change must be the result of the rapid cooling of the solid body as it decelerates."

There you have it from the expert. The way I read it, copper in a meteorid could cause the green light but the ionization of the nitrogen in the atmosphere is more likely the main cause.

Happy hunting,

Bob Boorx4

Great answer... I don't have that book yet but it's on my short list of books to get. Sounds like that just might be it!

This answers my question on why it's green. So that means the article Jim pointed me to was in fact correct. That article was worded somewhat differnt and I guess I was still a bit unclear on it. Thanks for all the help with it! Thanks Jim for the article link... looks like you were right on the money there!

I've done more research and just about everything I read states it's the ionization of atmospheric gases coupled with the extremely high temps the composition of the meteorite and the velocity determines color. I just hadn't found anything yet regarding which minerals made those colors.

Now I think maybe I can speak somewhat intelligently if someone ever asks me, "Why are shooting stars green/red/yellow/blue?" :) Thanks everyone for your input!

Regards,

Eric

MW

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