NASA atmospheric physicist Nick Gorkavyi and his colleagues in Greenbelt, Md., were able to use the satellite data to record a never-before-seen view of the atmospheric aftermath of the explosion of the meteor over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk -- coincidentally Gorkavyi's home town.
That explosion deposited hundreds of tons of dust up in the stratosphere, allowing NASA's Suomi NPP satellite to gather unprecedented measurements of how the material formed a thin but cohesive and persistent stratospheric dust belt, NASA reported Wednesday.
"We wanted to know if our satellite could detect the meteor dust," Gorkavyi said. "Indeed, we saw the formation of a new dust belt in Earth's stratosphere, and achieved the first space-based observation of the long-term evolution of a bolide plume."
The satellite data showed that four days after the explosion the faster, higher portion of the plume had snaked its way entirely around the Northern Hemisphere and back to Chelyabinsk.
And at least three months later a detectable belt of bolide dust persisted around the planet, the researchers said.
Modern technology offers an improved level of understanding of injection and evolution of meteor dust into the atmosphere, including from giant cosmic impacts in Earth's past, Gorkavyi said.
"Of course, the Chelyabinsk bolide is much smaller than the 'dinosaurs killer,' and this is good: We have the unique opportunity to safely study a potentially very dangerous type of event," he said.