- Shuttle Impact -
0:03:19 - The first scene, following the background info, starts off with a space shuttle and a satellite being pummeled by tiny meteors ranging in size from golf balls to, I would say about television sets. In real life, could this really happen? That a meteor shower could take out a shuttle and a satellite?
First we must describe a meteor shower. A meteor shower is typically produced when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet. The millions of tiny particles in the comet's tail fly into the atmosphere producing the effect seen on the ground (CNN.com). Since these objects are moving at tremendous rates of speed (up to 30,000 mph) even grain sizes meteor could produce devastating damage were it to hit a satellite or a shuttle (Space.com). Most meteor showers are predictable though, since we know when we will pass through a comet's tail. Knowing that, we can prevent such damage from occurring. But if a meteor shower was to hit the shuttle and a satellite, then yes it could take out the shuttle, especially with baseball sizes meteors.
But this meteor shower did not originate from the tail of a comet, the meteors were part of an asteroid. I did say that meteor showers were typically produced by comet debris but it is possible, and has happened in the past, that larger meteors were pieces broken off of asteroids and even planets (Space.com). So if another object were to hit an asteroid, it could be possible that the debris caused by the impact would stray into the Earth's orbit. And since these are broken chunks of asteroid, it is also possible that they could be significantly larger than the comet produced meteors. So far, everything about this meteor shower is possible. The main question now is, is it possible that noone would detect this before it could happen? I will get into that in a little bit.
Now in the movie, when the meteors hit the shuttle they produced a similar fire trail effect as is visible on Earth when they are traveling through the atmosphere. How high up does this fire trail effect originate and would it occur around the shuttle? When meteors travel into the atmosphere they start to burn at an altitude of 80 miles down through 50 miles (SpaceWeather). Geosynchronous satellites, satellites that remain in a fixed location above the Earth, must remain in orbit about 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface while some satellites do orbit down to an altitude of 435 miles, but these are mainly polar satellites with a small coverage area (UCAR.edu). So even if the shuttle crew was working on the lowest possible satellite up in space the meteors still would not produce the fire trail associated with shooting stars. So this visual aspect is used just for a "wow" effect and is not based on any real science.
- Meteor Landfall -
0:06:51 - When the meteors reach the inner atmosphere they proceed to destroy New York City. Now since we have already determined that the size of the meteors are possible due to an asteroid impact, we now focus on the amount of damage that was caused.
The amount of damage caused in space and the amount of damage caused on the Earth's surface is dramatically different because the speed of a meteor within the atmosphere is cut down due to friction. When they enter the atmosphere, meteors produce an effect called ram pressure where they compact the atmosphere in front of them producing a fire trail that burns them up as they descend. Even though the meteors are slowed down they still can hit the Earth with tremendous force, so the amount of damage produced in NYC in the movie would not be hard to imagine. In the movie, the meteors are slowed down not just by ram pressure but also by buildings, streets, and people which help reduce the amount of damage on the ground. This would explain why the impact sites do not resemble Meteor Crater. Also, most meteors up to and including baseball size burn up in the atmosphere before they hit the ground, explaining why the meteors from the shuttle accident did not cause the mass panic that the later meteors caused (Space.com). This means that following the shuttle accident there was at least one more wave of larger meteors.
The main thing about the meteor shower that does not seem possible to me is the fact that according to the movie, meteors were splashing down from Finland down to South Carolina with apparently the vast majority of them hitting NYC (pictured left). Since the 3 locations can be connected with a straight line we might be able to make this work. To explain how meteors would hit the Earth you have to imagine that essentially the source of the meteors are a fixed point in space since they are formed far away. This is similar to the perspective of train tracks merging towards the horizon, causing individual meteors to appear to strike across the sky in parallel lines (CBC).
So every meteor that travels across the sky should be parallel to one another. Not so in the movie. Starting off with the first meteor that touches down, this meteor shower is inconsistent. The first meteor in the movie drops straight down on the Godzilla guy, while almost every other meteor comes in at an angle to the buildings. And not all of them even come in at the same angle, which is rare that some meteors would be diverted one way while others are diverted another way. It is possible, though, that meteors can travel in different directions during the same meteor shower but they usually have a different origin (Astropix).
Now onto the fact that the meteors are hitting from South Carolina through NYC to Finland. Due to the curvature of the Earth I would not anticipate that this would be possible unless they formed a stream, or a string, hitting the Earth. If they were to form a stream with the upper part of the stream reaching down to South Carolina (SC) and the bottom part of the stream hitting Finland then this could be possible (Green Arrow). Unfortunately one of the views the showed the meteors coming in at an angle indicated they were angled North, up the Manhattan island (Yellow Arrow). So for both scenarios to be possible then the meteor shower had to have been a flat sheet with the entire length hitting the Earth at the same time. Again this would have been possible if you consider the meteors as a stream across the sky and the Earth traveling into their path. Unfortunately this is not possible because the main asteroid is part of the stream and if the Earth passed through the stream then the main asteroid would pass by after the Earth went through the asteroid stream, not be headed directly for us.
In conclusion for this section I would say that the intent for the meteor shower was probably the Green Arrow because that is at least plausible and that the problem with the meteor angles was just for dramatic effect. The fact that the meteors come in ever increasing size pulses seems improbable. They most likely would come in by way of a continuous stream with a mixture of different sizes based on their formation, but I will go into that in a little more detail below. And I'm not even going to mention the amount of meteors that hit NYC because there is nothing to compare it to, since they did not even show any of the other localities that were hit.
0:56:23 - This is the random Chinese strike about halfway through the movie. Back in 1998 this part about the warning system would have been correct, but luckily (?) the 2004 Sumatra tsunami happened and caused the update/production of the tsunami warning system where 11 minutes is actually the amount of warning time they can be prepared for. Still a little short notice but at least it is something for the surrounding regions to get away from the water.
1:59:50 - The asteroid that strikes Paris is actually the most accurate meteorite impact that I have found in the entire movie.