Astronomy what causes Shooting Stars

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No doubt a plethora of readers have wished upon a falling star at some stage of their lives. But do stars really fall or is simply how it looks to the naked eye? Falling stars are actually solid bodies which enter the earth’s atmosphere as they travel on through space. In laymen’s terms these are meteors. These cause a streaky trail which is easily seen by star gazers. Meteors can enter the earth’s atmosphere at a velocity of ten to seventy kms per second. Consequently, this causes friction which has the meteors burning up and while doing so, it produces light which casual observers call ‘falling stars’.

When one observes a meteor shower, what is actually happening is that hundreds of meteors are falling simultaneously. While this occurs earth’s atmosphere acts as a type of buffer zone. Therefore helping to protect the earth’s surface from major impacts. Space has no barriers, therefore the meteors do not burn. And the moon’s atmosphere is far from thick in comparison to Earths. It’s enlightening to know that a host of scientists believe that the craters which are seen on the moon could be the result of meteor impacts. Meteors which succeed in reaching Earth are called meteorites.

What are they made up of?

Meteorites are composed of dust and rocks more than anything else. Categorizing meteors is based on their actual composition. A vast array of meteorites contain chondrite, stony iron and basic iron. The majority of meteorites fall into the chondrite category. A large percentage of the materials found within meteorites can also be found in the Earth’s mantle as well as its crust. What is the mantle? The mantle is basically the thick molten core of the Earth which we call lava which erupts from volcanoes. The crust of the Earth is the surface walk on.

Documentaries show that back in 1908 a meteor struck Siberia although no crater resulted from the impact. But the damage spanned over an area of 60 kilometers! Contrary to popular belief, shooting stars are not stars at all. Minute rocks and grains of dust reside in the zone where earth orbits. A plethora of these were put there by comets. When the earth passes close enough, they enter earth’s atmosphere and that is when one sees what appears to be a star falling from the heavens. These tiny rocks/particles of dust etc, can be a tiny as 1200th of an inch. They move rapidly through the atmosphere.

As this happens, the meteoroids fragment and vaporize in the earth's atmosphere. The vaporized atoms then collide with the atmospheric atoms and this is what creates the brilliant light signature which a majority of people call shooting stars of meteors. This happens quite sporadically most times, a single dust grain or rock enters the earth's atmosphere and it lights up the sky. Other times, there will be large quantities of dust or rock trails. This occurs when the earth passes through space where a comet has previously passed. When this happens it produces what is known as a meteor shower. But can actual stars shoot across the sky? Yes, one star called Mira did just that and it had a trail of gas and dust behind it which was 13 light-years long. Mira is said to move at a speed of 80 miles per second (130 km/s) and it leaves a gigantic trail behind her.

More about this author: Janette Waldron

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