Meteor traveling through atmosphere without hitting Earth

Is it possible (however unlikely) to have a meteorite miss Earth so narrowly and at such flat angle that it would enter atmosphere, travel few (dozens, hundreds, thousands?) kilometers getting as close as few kilometers to the ground without hitting anything and then leave atmosphere without any significant, leaving millions of humans staring agape at the sky?

Or does gravity and air friction prevent this by either making such flat trajectory impossible or by slowing down meteorite enough to make it fall to the ground?

• youtu.be/19ZnUe49Q1E For an example of this. Sep 7, 2016 at 8:20
• Strictly speaking it's impossible by definition for a meteorite to miss the earth, but I expect that's not the answer you're looking for ;-) Sep 7, 2016 at 18:27
• Here is a much more dramatic example that you may remember: youtu.be/dpmXyJrs7iU Sep 7, 2016 at 19:40
• @fractalspawn That one certainly did hit the Earth! However there was a bright Earth grazer in 1972 that was captured on film youtube.com/watch?v=4WlCfuPrszU Its lowest point was about 60km Sep 7, 2016 at 20:39
• @SteveJessop I can't remember which one is which to save my life, but looking back at topic and question body, looks like I was correct at least once :)
– Lope
Sep 8, 2016 at 6:17

1 Answer

yes it is possible,they are called Earth grazers or Earth-grazing fireball. they are not rare but only few incidents are recorded.

for more details read this Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth-grazing_fireball

• Very interesting, thanks! I checked the wiki, and listed examples had distance from Earth at least 70km. Would it be possible to have them graze by at the height less than 10km? Or is the atmosphere too thick?
– Lope
Sep 7, 2016 at 9:37
• @Lope The angle of approach and the mass and toughness of the asteroid are factors so there's no one answer other than it would depend on a few things. If the Earth had no atmosphere, very near misses could happen where the asteroid kind of flies and just misses the Earth, never touching it. An asteroid, in theory, could miss the Moon by a few inches, but with atmospheric drag slowing down the asteroid, on Earth, it's much harder. A larger, faster moving asteroid would have a better chance, but even so, 10 KM sounds impossibly close to me. I wouldn't want to try to do the math though. Sep 7, 2016 at 10:31
• @Lope It would have to be unbelievably dense: see Newton's impact depth approximation Sep 7, 2016 at 12:13
• @Lope G-force would be much greater than 70 km height, but it would be acting in favor of meteor and accelerating it. there would not be straight line motion. An avg meteor enters atmosphere with 20 km/s and impact velocity is around 11 km/s, even though gravity is accelerating it. so we know what aerodynamic heat can do. here's more about it en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerodynamic_heating and impact event en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_event Sep 7, 2016 at 14:08
• I think that there is also another element that makes them rarer. They have to come in quite on the edge of the planet. This means quite a shallow angle of entry. Is that not possibly also meaning they may bounce off the atmosphere when coming in too shallow? Sep 7, 2016 at 14:52