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What are Shooting Stars?


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There are many different sizes of rocks that can be found in space. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, it will be exposed to some of the rocks that come in its path. When these rocks collide with the Earth’s atmosphere (at great velocities), they begin to heat up due to air friction. Because of the high temperature produced from the air friction, they start to glow and then burn up. This is what we observe in the sky (at night) which appears to us as a glowing star moving across the sky. This trail of light is short-lived and vanishes in few a seconds. This also happens during daytime but we cannot see it because they are too dim in the sunlight. This glowing (burning) rock is called a meteor or what we commonly call a shooting or falling star. A meteoroid is that debris found outside the atmosphere. A meteoroid can range from the size of a grain of sand up to a boulder. Meteoroids are composed of stone, iron, or a mixture of stone and iron. If a meteor goes through the Earth’s atmosphere without burning up and hit the Earth’s surface (ground), it is called a meteorite. In other words, an incoming meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere as a meteor and impacts the Earth's surface, it is then known as a meteorite. Most meteoroids however burn up when entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Meteorites are of two types; stony and metallic.

At certain times of year, several meteoroids collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. This happen when Earth goes through a region of space that contains a lot of rocks and dust. This debris come from the passage of a comet that breaks up as it comes near the Sun ejecting a lot of dust and chunks of rock in its path. If the comet's orbital path intersects with that of Earth, then the swarm of rocks and dust scattered over the comet entire orbit will then collides with the Earth’s atmosphere. This event will result in what you called a meteor shower. Large numbers of meteors observed in a particular part of the sky are named for the constellation in which they appear to originate. For example, the Aquarids seem to come from the constellation of Aquarius (July 15- August 15 - Delta Aquarids), Leonids will appear to originate in the constellation of Leo (November 15-20), the Perseids from Perseus (July 25 - August 18) and the Orionids from Orion (October 16-27). Scientists (astronomers) used the name of the constellation it appears to come from to name them for easy reference. Meteor showers occur on about the same dates each year.

Therefore, a falling star or a shooting star has nothing whatsoever to do with a star. It is just another name for a meteoroid (interplanetary debris) that burns up as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. That is, air friction vaporizes them into the white-hot streaks of light. This visible path (streak of light) of a meteoroid is a meteor. Thus, shooting stars or the falling stars are meteors.

Related Articles:

Why is space black?
Is there sound in space?
Why is the sky blue in the day and black at night?

Can you hear sound in space?
Is outer space a perfect vacuum?
Why do stars twinkle?

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