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What is a Meteor?

May 7, 2014

Hi, I’m Emerald Robinson, and in this “What Is” video we’ll be exploring meteors.

Many of you may have heard the term – and maybe have been lucky enough to see – a shooting star. But that streak of light in the night sky wasn’t a star at all. It was a meteor.

A meteor is the visible path of a meteoroid that has entered the Earth’s atmosphere.  A meteoroid is debris in our solar system that ranges in size from a grain of sand to a large boulder. Meteoroids travel around our sun in a variety of orbits and speeds. When the Earth encounters a meteoroid we see a meteor streaking in our night sky. If the Earth passes through a large cluster of meteoroids we see a meteor shower – a dazzling display of streaking lights brightening our night. Often times a meteor shower is the result of the Earth passing through the debris field left over from a comet’s tail. There are nine meteor showers that occur regularly every year. The Leonids meteor shower, peaking around November 17th every year, is the brightest and most impressive annual shower.  The Leonids meteor shower is the result of the Earth passing through the debris left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

Not all meteors completely burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Meteorites result from larger meteors that survive the journey through the Earth’s atmosphere and strike our surface. It is estimated that about 500 meteorites ranging in size from a marble to a basketball reach the surface each year. In rare occasions a meteorite is large enough to leave an impact crater.

Meteorites are valuable to scientists because they provide clues about our solar system. But most meteors burn up in the atmosphere simply providing us with a “shooting star” to wish on.



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