Our Planet

What is a meteor?

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Have you ever wished on a shooting star? Believe it or not, that shooting star wasn't a star at all! It was a meteor, or the trail of vapor left by a particle from space traveling through the Earth's atmosphere.

A meteor's streak of light lasts a short amount of time, making it extra special when spotted from the ground! It all starts with a meteoroid, or a piece of space debris. Meteoroids are often particles from asteroids, comets, the moon, or even Mars! Some meteoroids are as small as dust particles, but they can range from tiny to boulder-sized. When a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere, it's moving at top speed. The meteoroid and the air around it get very hot, which causes some or all of the meteoroid to burn up! The vapor that's created appears as a shining trail in the night sky: a meteor!

A meteor that is extra big and bright is called a fireball. There are even times of the year when a very large number of meteors can be seen. We call this group of meteors a meteor shower. A meteor shower happens when the Earth passes through fragments left by a comet. As these meteoroids meet the Earth's atmosphere, they create many meteors, sometimes hundreds in an hour! Now that's a night sky you wouldn't want to miss!

by Brian Griffin (Whyzz writer)

Exploration

Now it's time to create a meteor shower on paper! Take a white crayon and make streaks across a white piece of construction paper. When you've finished, brush black watercolor paint over the surface of the paper. Since crayons are made of wax, and wax repels water, the crayon streaks will be waterproof as the paint soaks into the rest of the paper! Don't they look bright against the night sky you've painted?!

Further Information

Let's learn one more "meteor" word. As you know, a meteoroid is a particle or cluster from space, and a meteor is the trail created when it burns up in the atmosphere. Most of the time, the entire meteoroid vaporizes. However, if the meteoroid is large enough, part of it will remain after traveling through the sky, and it will land on the surface of the Earth. When a portion of the meteoroid survives and reaches the ground, we call it a meteorite!

Sources

Meteor and meteoroid. Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online.What Is a Meteor?: Information About Meteors, Meteoroids, Fireballs & Meteorites. Geology.com.Villanueva, John Carl. What Is a Meteor? Universe Today.