Astronomy For Beginners: What Is A Meteor

The Sky Is Falling... Or Is It?

Have you ever made a wish on a shooting star? Well, while I hope your wish came true, I’m afraid I have bad news- that wasn’t really a star (shocker huh), although it was falling.

What you saw was a Meteor (meet - ee - or). On this page we’ll talk about what Meteors are and where they come from, why they’re so important to us here on Earth, and what happens when they hit Earth.

What Is A Meteor

Now I know what some of you are thinking: “What is a Meteor”, well to answer that we need to start way out in space. You see, despite it’s name, space is actually pretty cluttered (at least in our solar system anyway) and there’s lot’s of stuff moving around. One of the things up there are Meteoroids.

Meteoroids are pieces of debris that are just floating around in space. They can be pieces of comets, the result of a collision of Asteroids, or even material left over from the formation of our solar system (see, sometimes there really are extra pieces left over).

While they’re out there in space just going about their business, they’re called Meteoroids, but once they hit Earth’s atmosphere (actually it’s more accurate to say “once Earth’s atmosphere hit’s them”), they get to change their name to Meteors. That’s when we get to see the show. Long trails of fire, zipping across the night sky. Anything that doesn't burn up in our atmosphere, and actually manages to make it to the surface, is called a Meteorite.

Leonid Meteor 2009

Leonid Meteor
Leonid Meteor | Source

A Meteor Shower

Why Are Meteors So Important?

Meteors are important to us here on Earth for a few reasons. First, they give us a good look at what kinds of materials there are just floating around out in space. Now while that may not seem like anything special, it gives us a good look at the same kinds of building blocks that helped form the Earth and the other planets. In fact, there are a growing number of scientists who think that life on Earth may owe it’s existence to early Meteors that hit the Earth billions of years ago.

The Murnpeowie Meteorite

Murnpeowie Meteorite
Murnpeowie Meteorite | Source

What Happens When A Meteor Hit’s The Earth

So what happens when Earth gets hit by a Meteor? Well, in most cases, nothing. The vast majority of Meteoroids that Earth runs into burn up in our thick atmosphere and never even make it to the surface. The ones that do make it to the surface are usually small- very small. Most meteorites are as small as a grain of sand, or as large as a basketball, but, from time to time, Earth runs into something a little larger.

Now before we go any further, I want you to forget what you see in the movies. Hollywood is great for entertainment, but you need to remember that it’s only fiction. With that being said, I’m afraid they've pretty much got it right as far as Earth impacts go. The good news is, these types of impacts are rare , and I don’t mean like “hardly ever” rare, I mean “only a hand full of times in the last 250 million years ” type rare. The last “major impact” was 65 million years ago (the one that killed the dinosaurs). There have been some pretty bad impacts since then (like the one in Siberia in 1908), but nothing even close to that scale.

Now for the “glass-half-empty ” part. At some point in the future, the Earth will have another major impact, it’s just a matter of time. Now before you go and hide in the basement, relax, detection technology is improving every day to help us spot these big guys decades (and sometimes, centuries) in advance. We also have something that no other Earth inhabitant has ever had when dealing with a major impact- technology. So, don’t worry about the sky falling anytime soon.

The Geminid Meteor Shower

Orion StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector Telescope

Don't let the fact that the Orion StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector Telescope is classed as a "beginners" telescope fool you, this light-weight, easy to assemble telescope will have you gazing at the stars all night.

More than capable of showing you great detail on the Moon, and a great view of Mars, the Orion StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector Telescope will let you gaze beyond, not only our solar system, but the Milky Way itself, viewing distant nebula and galaxies millions of light years away.

This is an outstanding telescope for any amateur astronomer, and a great "back-to-school" gift for any youngster.

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Comments 8 comments

J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

What an informative Hub! I took an astronomy class in college but I forgot everything! Thanks for the refresher! I will vote Up and Share! Welcome to HubPages!


viryabo profile image

viryabo 5 years ago

I remember when i first heard about meteors, i actually though great rock like boulders will actually 'smash' into earth and consume a fair size of it. And i was actually scared, just thinking about it. I would never have imagined that they could be as small as a grain of sand.

This is a fine article Billy. Voted up and 'useful'.

Welcome to HP.

annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 5 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

great stuff - I really enjoyed it - voted up and stuff

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

I am always fascinated and puzzled by astronomy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Voted up / useful/ interseting. BTW-thanks for the reality check re: falling stars. Sorry, but I will still 'pretend' they are stars, LOL

lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Billy, a delightful read. And welcome to HubPages! Glad to have your talents around to share knowledge.

I've been an amateur astronomer for the last 55 years and it's always nice to read a new take on an old subject. Keeps all those gray cells warm and cozy.

I saw a PBS program a few years ago which mentioned an experiment in a California laboratory where simple hydrocarbon chemicals were attached to a projectile before they collided it at meteoric speeds. Interestingly, the chemicals became more complex! Instead of breaking apart, the chemicals took the next step toward the building blocks of life.

Gotta love those meteors. Perhaps they did indeed have a great deal to do with life starting here,... and perhaps elsewhere, too.

Billy Hicks profile image

Billy Hicks 5 years ago Author

Wow, thank you all for the warm reception! I'm so glad you all enjoyed this Hub, and I can't wait to publish some more.

@J.S.Matthew - Thanks for the like & share. I always enjoy reading things the refresh my interest in classes I took in college, that's actually how I came up with the idea for this Hub.

@viryabo I'm glad you liked it. The fact is, most astronomers believe that the Earth get hit by a meteor anywhere from 20 - 50 times a day depending on the time of year, over 80% burn up completely before impact.

@annmackiemiller Thanks for the support, I'm glad you liked the Hub.

@Denise Handlon I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub! I've always been interested in Astronomy as a hobby. I was crushed by the way when I found out that "falling stars" were actually rocks, lol.

@lone77star As I said above, I've always had an amateur interest in astronomy, and I have no doubt that meteors played a large part in the formation of life. When you look at the simple fact that all of the base elements (Oxygen, Iron, Calcium, etc) were created in stars and then distributed in supernovas, they had to get here somehow. I'm glad you liked the Hub.

kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 5 years ago from the Ether

Very informative hub for your first one ever! Voted up and useful.

Billy Hicks profile image

Billy Hicks 5 years ago Author

Thanks for the feedback Kitty, I'm glad you liked it.

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