The smoke trail that meteor left behind seemed pretty big and to persist for some time (it’s still there for all I know). Would there be any scientific value in getting ahold of some of it? Is it too high up or otherwise too difficult to gather anyway?
Tag along question: is the voluminous optical documentation useful for scientists? I’d be willing to bet ballistic missile guys tracked it.
It seems to me that smoke would only be useful if fragments of the object were not obtainable and I think they’ll be finding chunks of this thing for months. In other words, smoke is a distant second best to the fuel.
Well, there’s probably an order of magnitude more of it than is really useful, but yes, given video of it from multiple vantages, we’ll be able to determine its exact path through the atmosphere, and hence its original orbit. That, in turn, might allow us to relate it to a comet or other object. Knowing the path through the atmosphere will also make it a lot easier to find the impact site(s), and hence find the remains of the object itself (something that bright will almost certainly have chunks that survived all the way to the ground).
I can’t imagine that the smoke would last longer than an hour, maybe two, and that’s if the local winds are especially calm. Think about how long an airplane contrail lasts; that’s about the same thing, on a slightly smaller scale.
However, if you did have the foresight to get up there early enough, and it was not too diffuse already to be useful, then yes, it would have some scientific value. You could maybe analyze the smoke and learn something about this specific meteorite. I doubt we’d learn much about meteorites in general from it, since we’ve already got lots of other meteorites to analyze and they’re not already vapor.
One can probably infer that its trajectory is already being plotted back, for scientific and military purposes.