Stars and planets aren’t the only things floating around in space. At any moment there are bits of rocks floating around, too.

Some of these space rocks are as tiny as particles of dust, and some are as large as boulders! What does space dust have to do with shooting stars, you may wonder?

Well, a shooting star (or “falling star”) has nothing to do with stars and everything to do with these little bits of rock.

Though they may appear to have the same enchanting glow as the stars we see twinkling in the night sky, shooting stars are actually small pieces of rock or dust, called meteoroids, hitting the Earth’s atmosphere and burning up.

The brief and beautiful trail of light we see as a meteoroid streaks through the sky is called a meteor. Meteors are what people commonly refer to as shooting stars.

So isn’t a burning rock falling through space dangerous? Not typically. Most meteoroids are only the size of a grain of sand and burn up before they ever reach the Earth. Very rarely, a part of a meteor may survive the journey through our atmosphere and make its way to Earth’s surface, at which time it becomes a meteorite.

 

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  1. My daughter got to the punch-line long before I did. Before the video was even over she was amazing me with her knowledge of shooting “rocks”. (She claims she didn’t learn this in school, but has always known. *Wonder* what else she’s always known!)

    Great video!

    • We haven’t seen a shooting star either, Ronnie M, but we will keep our eyes peeled for one in the future! We think it would be WONDERful to see one in person, but we bet there are lots of amazing images and videos of shooting stars on science and academic websites! We hope you’ll keep exploring the WONDERful world of astronomy! :)

  2. We love the way that you put all of the information together. We didn’t know that shooting stars were actually made out of rocks, we thought it was just a star falling, we thought wrong.

    • Thanks so much, Lana and Renee! We’re glad to hear you are enjoying your time at Wonderopolis! It’s so much fun to learn something new with you! :)

    • Great question, Davide! We think that they get pulled in by Earth’s atmosphere. Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a shooting star?
  • What is the difference between meteoroids, meteorites and meteors?
  • When is the best time to see a shooting star?

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shutterstock_60468637.cxVimeo Video

Try It Out

A few times a year, Earth passes through a trail of dust and debris a comet has left behind while orbiting the sun. This comet trail is called a meteor stream.

When Earth passes through a dusty meteor stream, hundreds or thousands of meteoroids are born. This is called a meteor shower.

If conditions are favorable, you can usually see meteor showers from your own backyard without any special equipment. Find out when the next meteor shower will be coming to a nighttime sky near you. (Hint: It’s coming up very soon!)

Keep an eye on the sky. The next time you see a shooting star, you can exclaim “that rocks!” — and really mean it.

Still wondering?

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of resources you can explore.

Star Search — This tool from Science NetLinks offers guidance for inspiring children to stargaze on their own.

Make Your Own Star Clock — This resource from Lawrence Hall of Science offers step-by-step instructions for building and using a star clock.

 

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