(meteorobs) Fw: trails, trains, etc

  • Subject: (meteorobs) Fw: trails, trains, etc
  • From: Ed Majden
  • Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2001 18:17:58 -0700
     The following is a list of definitions regarding trails, trains, wakes,
etc provided to me by Dr. Jiri Borovicka and I am posting them with his
permission.  He hopes in the near future to write a paper on this topic.
The only accepted definitions are the ones that are approved by the IAU.
This is a work in progress.
    An interesting related paper has just been published in MAPS,
Meteoritics & Planetary Science 36, 1217-1224 (2001), "Heterogeneous
chemical processes as a source of persistent meteor trails", by Edmond
MURAD, Space Vehicles Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Hanscom
AFB, Mass.

Ed Majden


 A luminosity just behind the meteor. It moves with the meteor
 and forms a kind of tail. The wake is often present in bright
 fireballs, which are then sometimes described as a comet-like objects
 by the witnesses. In this sense, the meteor can be described as
 consisting of meteor head and meteor wake. At a given position,
 the wake duration is only a fraction of second.

 The spectrum of meteor wake is different from the spectrum of meteor
 head. The wake spectrum consists chiefly from low excitation lines.
 Typical lines belong to Na I, Fe I, Mg I, Ca I, i.e. to the atoms
 released from the meteoroid.

 After a meteoroid fragmentation, small fragments decelerate more
 rapidly and stay behind the main body. They may look like a wake of the
 main body but this is not a true head+wake, rather a multiple meteor
 with similar spectra in all parts.


 Luminous trains left behind the meteor for up to about 3 seconds. They are
often observed visually and by video techniques in fast
 meteors like Perseids. They are present also in faint meteors, of
 magnitude +4 or so. In fact the ratio of the train/meteor brightness is
 larger in faint meteors than in bright meteors. The train is not
 connected with the meteor. In fact, it forms at a given position
 with some delay after the meteor passage. The the train is also
 considerably shifted to higher altitudes than the meteor which produced
 The short-duration trains are formed by only one spectral line,
 the green auroral lines of neutral atomic oxygen at 5577 A. This
 is a forbidden line. The luminosity is produced (very probably) by
 the atmospheric oxygen.


 Luminous trains left behind the meteor for from 3 seconds up to
 more than an hour in rare cases. The trains are self-luminous, i.e.
 the luminosity is not produced by reflected sunlight or other external
 source. Persistent trains are produced much more easily by fast
 meteors. Leonids are very favorable. The typical altitude for train
 formation is 90 km. Persistent trains are affected by high altitude
 winds and  change the shape. Some trains show a hollow structure.

 Persistent trains are not well understood objects. Several spectra
 have been taken in the recent years, which, surprisingly, looks
 differently from case to case. The spectra show both continuous
 or quasi-continous radiation and atomic lines. The most important
 and most persistent line, common for all spectra, is the sodium line
 at 5893 A. This suggests that the long-living luminosity is due
 to similar mechanism which produces the sodium airglow. The recent
 Leonid train spectrum is similar during the first few seconds to a
 meteor wake spectrum. The train formed at the position of meteor flare.
 The meteor ablation products therefore played an
 important role. Nevertheless forbidden lines of neutral and ionized
 oxygen were also reported in some train spectra.


 Trains observed during the day time or twilight after a passage
 of a very bright fireball. They may be visible for more than an hour
 and change the shape. These trains are visible in the sunlight reflected
 (or absorbed) on the dust debris of the meteoroid. During
 the night, they may be visible for a short time due the thermal
 radiation of the dust or other mechanisms. Dust trains may be formed
 at any altitude, depending on the dust deposition by the fireball.
 Of course, more dust is produced by massive objects and they often
 explode at an altitude around 30 km.


 Trails detected using a reflection of radio waves on a column of free
 electrons produced by a passage of a meteor. The relation to the
 trains detected by optical methods is not clear.

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