Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Tobin Munsat

Second Advisor

Mihaly Horanyi

Third Advisor

Sascha Kempf

Fourth Advisor

Zoltan Sternovsky

Fifth Advisor

Robert Marshall


Each day, several tons of meteoric material enters Earth's atmosphere, the majority of which consist of small dust particles (micrometeoroids) that completely ablate at high altitudes. The dust input has been suggested to play a role in a variety of phenomena including: layers of metal atoms and ions, nucleation of noctilucent clouds, effects on stratospheric aerosols and ozone chemistry, and the fertilization of the ocean with bio-available iron. Furthermore, a correct understanding of the dust input to the Earth provides constraints on inner solar system dust models. Various methods are used to measure the dust input to the Earth including satellite detectors, radar, lidar, rocket-borne detectors, ice core and deep-sea sediment analysis. However, the best way to interpret each of these measurements is uncertain, which leads to large uncertainties in the total dust input.

To better understand the ablation process, and thereby reduce uncertainties in micrometeoroid ablation measurements, a facility has been developed to simulate the ablation of micrometeoroids in laboratory conditions. An electrostatic dust accelerator is used to accelerate iron particles to relevant meteoric velocities (10-70 km/s). The particles are then introduced into a chamber pressurized with a target gas, and they partially or completely ablate over a short distance. An array of diagnostics then measure, with timing and spatial resolution, the charge and light that is generated in the ablation process.

In this thesis, we present results from the newly developed ablation facility. The ionization coefficient, an important parameter for interpreting meteor radar measurements, is measured for various target gases. Furthermore, experimental ablation measurements are compared to predictions from commonly used ablation models. In light of these measurements, implications to the broader context of meteor ablation are discussed.