My understanding of science is pretty much limited to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I’m not afraid to admit it. This makes me the PERFECT person to ask all these annoying questions that everyone else would be embarrassed to ask.
Elsewhere on this site, it’s been claimed that shooting stars are actually particles roughly the size of a grain of sand “burning up” as they enter our atmosphere. I’ve also read about the “heat shielding” that the Shuttle and Lunar Re-Entry craft needed to avoid “burning up” upon re-entry.
This makes no sense to me. But then, I’m a science dummy, and pretty much figure the world is flat because I can’t see the curve.
Here’s the thing: As I recall from my skydiving days, a body hits terminal velocity in about 150 feet. The fastest anyone has ever managed to go in free-fall was a Nasa jumper that did an extremely high Altitude jump- he hit something like 700 mph.
Yet he didn’t “burn up”. So how can a grain of space dirt “burn up” just by entering our atmosphere? Now, you might say that it had all kinds of excess velocity BEFORE hitting our atmosphere (relative to Earth’s movement), which immediately converted to energy once friction slowed it down. But how does this explain the Space Shuttle? Since one would imagine that you could just DROP the damn thing from about any height, and it’d never pick up much more speed that our aforementioned Skydiver (because, after all, St. Newton showed that bodys fall at the same rate regardless of mass) why does the Shuttle need “heat shielding”? Especially considering that it’s DAMN COLD in the upper atmosphere.
Now, I realize that there’s something I’m missing, being, as I am, a Science Dummy. I’m trying to reach enlightenment on what that “something” is. Does the shuttle end up in it’s own orbit, with it’s own relativistic speeds?