“Shooting star” is the common name for a meteor, because it looks just like a regular star shooting across the sky. The Solar System is full of dust and debris left over from when it first formed, and thousands of tonnes of this stuff falls on Earth every year. When larger particles (about the size of a grain of sand) hit the atmosphere, they’re coming in at speeds up to 70 kilometers per second, and have a tremendous amount of kinetic energy. Atmospheric friction and compression heat up both the grain and the air in front of it till they glow white hot. For a brief instant, before the meteoroid melts and vaporises, we see this white hot material dart across the sky as a “shooting star”. Before a meteor hits the atmosphere, when it’s just another piece of space dust, we call it a meteoroid. If the meteoroid was large and dense enough, it might make it all the way to the ground before it vaporises. These pebbles and rocks from space are called meteorites.
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