What are shooting stars?
How are shooting stars made and how often do they occur during the night?
There are many little chunks of rock present in space. Their sizes range typically from the size of a grain of dust to the size of a golf ball (the latter being more impressive in the night sky, but also more rare). As the Earth moves around the Sun, it will run ito some of these small rocks that collide with the atmosphere at great velocities. Going through the atmosphere they begin to heat up, start to glow, and then burn down. This is what we see when we look at a shooting star (which we call a meteor).
There are millions of such particles colliding with the atmosphere every day (I mean day and night). But since you can only see them at night, and you can only look at a small part of the sky at once, when stargazing you can expect to see a shooting star every 10 to 15 minutes.
This is on a regular night. When we get meteor showers, we get many more. A meteor shower happens when the Earth goes through a region of space that is especially filled with dust and chunks of rock. Therefore we get many more meteors at these times. More precisely, meteor showers happen when Earth, on its way around the Sun, passes through the path of a comet. That's because as a comet orbits near the Sun, it starts to melt down and ejects on its path lots of dust and chunks of rock. The yearly meteor showers are caused by this. In any given night, you can also see more shooting stars (in fact about twice as many) just before dawn. That's because at dawn we are facing the direction in which the Earth is moving, so we intercept more of the stuff in space.
Get More 'Curious?' with Our New PODCAST:
- Podcast? Subscribe? Tell me about the Ask an Astronomer Podcast
- Subscribe to our Podcast | Listen to our current Episode
- Cool! But I can't now. Send me a quick reminder now for later.
- What is the typical size of a visible shooting star?
- What was that really big falling star that I saw?
- Why don't skydivers burn up like meteors?
How to ask a question:
If you have a follow-up question concerning the above subject, submit it here. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on our site menu, or go here for help.Table 'curious.Referrers' doesn't existTable 'curious.Referrers' doesn't exist
This page has been accessed 215233 times since September 26, 2002.
Last modified: November 4, 2002 4:50:30 PM
Ask an Astronomer is hosted by the Astronomy Department at Cornell University and is produced with PHP and MySQL.
Warning: Your browser is misbehaving! This page might look ugly. (Details)