The Pancake Model

The most important result of Mac Low's study is his finding that the numerical simulations agree well with an analytical model called the pancake model. This model assumes that once the aerodynamic force from the comet's impact into the atmosphere overcomes its material strength the comet flattens like a pancake, which greatly increases drag -- essentially stopping the comet in its tracks. If these results prove to be realistic -- and this summer's event could help determine that -- the pancake model can be used to predict what will happen from comet and asteroid impacts on Earth and other planets.

"One of the scientific issues we're hoping to get a handle on in terms of Earth impactors," says Mac Low, "is how big a rock do we need to worry about? One of the motives for modeling this impact is to see if we can do reasonably accurate predictions. If we can, we can start talking about how well the Earth's atmosphere protects us."

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