If you watch the news regularly, you know that every now and then objects — like meteors and satellites — fall from the sky toward Earth. Some people may worry and believe that the sky itself is falling. But is there anything to get excited about?

Believe it or not, space is filled with an almost-unlimited supply of things that could one day fall to Earth. Some of these things are extremely tiny and some are very big. Some are natural and some are man-made.

For example, orbital debris — also called space junk — is anything man-made that orbits the Earth but is no longer in use. Space junk could include things such as old space vehicles, weather balloons and broken satellites.

Scientists believe there are over 20,000 pieces of space junk that are at least four inches long. These pieces orbit Earth at speeds of up to five miles per second. Space is also filled with rocks and stones that are called meteoroids.

Occasionally, these things will fall from orbit and enter Earth’s atmosphere. Fortunately, Earth’s atmosphere protects the Earth from most of these objects.

As they fall, objects meet wind resistance from the air in the atmosphere. This resistance causes friction, which creates heat…A LOT of heat. In fact, most objects burn up completely before they ever reach Earth’s surface.

For example, many meteoroids fall toward Earth every day. Most burn up in the atmosphere. If a piece of meteoroid is big enough to survive entry into Earth’s atmosphere, its hot, glowing surface may create a moving point of light in the sky as it falls. When we see these, we call them meteors, “falling stars” or “shooting stars.”

If a meteor survives its trip all the way through the Earth’s atmosphere and actually hits the ground, it’s then called a meteorite. Many meteorites reach Earth every year, but the probability of being hit by one is almost zero. Only four people in recent history have been struck by a meteorite, and none were seriously injured.

The odds of being hit by space junk are about the same. Experts believe there is only one confirmed case of someone ever being hit by a piece of space junk.

In 1997, Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was hit on the shoulder while walking in the park. Scientists believe she was hit with a part of what used to be the Delta II rocket. The piece of space junk weighed about as much as an empty soda can and felt like someone tapping her on the shoulder.

So the next time you hear about a meteoroid or old satellite falling toward Earth, don’t worry. Just remember that the sky is a big place, the surface of Earth is huge and human beings are tiny in comparison. Also, most of Earth’s surface is taken up by the world’s oceans.

When an old satellite fell to Earth in late-September 2011, the odds of getting hit by debris from the falling satellite were about 1 in 100 trillion. By way of comparison, your odds of getting struck by lightning are about 1 in 60,000.

But what about catastrophic meteorite collisions? For example, scientists believe a meteorite a few miles wide hit Earth about 65 million years ago. It created the Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Such catastrophic events are extremely rare. Experts believe they only happen every 100 million years or so. So you can rest easy, because we also have a worldwide community of scientists who now keep a close eye on the skies for things that might fall to Earth.

109 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (25 votes, avg. 4.48 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...
    • You’re right, Danny! Did you learn some cool new facts about space junk, meteoroids, meteors and meteorites by exploring today’s Wonder? We sure hope you did! :-)

    • You’re right, too, Elizabeth! Thanks for leaving us a comment to let us know what you learned by visiting this Wonder of the Day®! We thought the video was really cool…did you? :-)

  1. The pic is awesome and pretty, but the video wouldn’t load… :( But ,I did read the whole thing, and it was fascinating! Now I can tell my sis not to freak out when she hears that a satellite is falling to Earth! :) By the way, I am 11, and home-schooled, and my mom showed me this website called oneword.com. Its really fun!

    • Thank you so much for leaving us this awesome comment today, Raina! Tell your mom that we really appreciate her sharing Wonderopolis with you and your sister…we LOVE meeting new Wonder Friends and learning together each day! We think it’s cool that you are 11 and are home-schooled. Thanks for sharing about oneword.com, too! You’re right! It IS fun! :-)

    • We’re super happy that you liked the video for today’s Wonder, Indigo! We think it is beautiful, too! It is so peaceful, and the images make you feel like you are right there! :-)

  2. We REALLY enjoyed this wonder! We like to learn about space, because so much is unknown. We do not really worry about things or objects from space falling on us. This did, however, lead us to wondering if the Earth be destroyed by an asteroid? What about black holes? Is there one in our galaxy and could it pull in the Earth? Is there a way to retrieve the space trash we have left out there? Can we colonize the MOON? :-) Thanks!

    –Team Turner

    • You guys have REALLY impressed us all here in Wonderopolis with your extra WONDERing about space today, Team Turner! Those are all EXCELLENT questions, and would make great future Wonders of the Day®! Thank you so much for sharing all the things you WONDERed about after you visited today’s Wonder! :-)

  3. We really liked the video today! The music and the scenery were fascinating! :)

    We talked about how things have fallen from the trees and how it sometimes hurt. Many of us shared that we would think something falling from the sky would hurt a lot. However, we thought it was interesting that Lottie Williams got hit by space junk and said it was like being tapped on the shoulder. We took turns tapping our partners lightly and agreed that we would have thought space junk would have hurt much more than that. :)

    We also read the Remarkable Story of Chicken Little. Almost all of us have seen the movie Chicken Little but many of us had never heard the original story. My was it different! Some of the boys (and a few girls) liked the original story of Chicken Little better. Our teacher said she liked the movie better because the story was violent and some of us agreed. :) Thanks again for another great wonder that gets us thinking, discussing, and connecting to the world around us. See you Thursday! :)

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing another great comment with us, Kerrick Elementary School! We have watched the video for today’s Wonder several times…it’s mesmerizing! We think it was super cool that you tried to feel how Lottie Williams felt when she got “tapped on the shoulder” by space junk! You guys sure know how to WONDER! :-)

    • Hi, Rachel! You can rest assured that we’re real people here in Wonderopolis! We want to make sure we give each comment the time and appreciation it deserves, so we might not be able to reply right away to any specific comment. But, we will ALWAYS reply to every real comment! Wonder Friends from all over the world comment each day on whichever one (or more) of the 400+ Wonders of the Day® they are exploring. That’s a LOT of comments from a LOT of Wonder Friends! :-)

  4. Today is our first day on Wonderopolis as a class and it brought out tons of questions and thoughts. We learned that most meteoroids never make it to Earth. We also liked calculating how fast meteoroids travel per hour. 18,000 mph… WOW! We wish that we could see stars like in the video. Where we live, they have light pollution rules, so we get to see more stars then in the nearer cities. We loved the link to impact earth. The rock looked like a potato. We are still wondering if stars move?

    • You sure DID have a lot of questions and thoughts after exploring today’s Wonder, The Class from Room 234 Dublin, Ohio. We appreciate your comment very much! Thank you for sharing all the neat things you learned today! We will have to do some more WONDERing ourselves to find out if stars move. In the meantime, you might like visiting past Wonder of the Day® #182 – How Many Stars Are In the Universe? Here’s a link that will take you right to it: http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-many-stars-are-in-the-sky/. Happy stargazing! :-)

    • It’s super nice to meet you, Alawi! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today and for telling us a little about yourself! Say “HI” to AJ for us! :-)

    • You bet, Mr. Fines! We could watch that video over and over…we love it! Thank you for leaving us this super awesome comment today! :-)

    • Hello, Meg! We’re not sure if dogs and cows are related, but we appreciate great WONDERing from our Wonder Friends (like you!)! Thanks for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and for leaving us a comment! :-)

    • Learning together and having fun is what Wonderopolis is all about, Ali! Thanks so much for leaving us this great comment! :-)

    • Hi, Sean! We’re SO HAPPY that you like the videos! They’re a really fun part of each Wonder of the Day®, aren’t they? :-)

    • We hope you’re having a WONDERful day, Natalie! Thanks for being such an awesome Wonder Friend and leaving us this comment today! :-)

    • We’re super glad you checked us out, Meg…THANKS! Wonderopolis is a place where students, teachers and parents can all learn together EVERY DAY! We have been around for over a year now, and there are lots of cool people who work here in Wonderopolis to make sure that each new day’s Wonder is, well, WONDERful! We have over 400 Wonders of the Day to explore, so have FUN checking them out, too! Thank you again for visiting!

    • That’s really awesome, Meg! We hope you and your friends explore the Wonders of the Day together! It’s awesome to learn new things, and friends make learning fun! :-)

    • That’s a great question, Meg! Maybe there will be a future Wonder of the Day® about one or more of these holiday legends! Be sure to keep checking back for each new day’s Wonder! :-)

    • Thanks for such a nice comment, Rama! We appreciate hearing from our Wonder Friends about the things they like best from each Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  5. Why is it that a meteor, meteorite and meteoroid are different things, but are technically the same thing coming from space? How big does the meteoroid have to be to be able to get through the atmosphere?

  6. Hey, you know shooting stars are just meteors. I love commenting. You know, I’m only 11, and you know you learn something new every day!

    • We know WE learn something new every day when we visit Wonderopolis, Mak! We’re so glad you stopped by this Wonder today and left us a great comment! We’re glad you like learning here! :-)

      • Way to go, Wonder Friends Adrian, Addy, Aniziah, and Micaiah! You learned a lot with us today AND you have even more questions about this Wonder! How cool! We hope you’ll do some more WONDERing of your own with the help of the Internet and your school’s library! Keep using your imaginations! You can do it! :)

    • We’re so happy to count you all as Wonder Friends, farmington school, and think it’s AWESOME that you love Wonderopolis and learning new things! Thank you for letting us know you live in Wisconsin. Is it very cold there this time of year? :-)

    • Hello, Zion! Thanks for leaving us this great comment today! We hope you learned a LOT by exploring this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • That’s right, Wonder Friend! Chicken Little was a wee bit over-excited about the sky falling. We’re sure glad we learned that the sky isn’t really falling and also that we got to learn about cool stuff like space junk and meteoroids, aren’t you? :-)

    • We’re super glad you visited Wonderopolis today and learned some new things, Colleen! We think meteor showers are REALLY cool to watch, too! :-)

    • Hi, Nick! Thank you for leaving us this comment and for letting us know you might be a little confused about something found in this Wonder. Can you let us know what doesn’t make sense to you so we can help explain it better? :-)

    • There are so many beautiful places to WONDER and enjoy nature in the world, Cam! Thank you for sharing that the desert is pretty at night! :-)

    • Hi there, Joe! We sure are glad you’re shooting for the stars today– you’ve been doing a great job of WONDERing! :)

      The great thing about Wonderopolis and the internet is that you can check out cool things, like shooting stars, even if you can’t see them in person! Perhaps you’ll see a shooting star in person, but in the meantime, you can use technology to see one on the computer! :)

    • Hey there Dew G, we are glad you’re WONDERing with us! We learned that multiplying 4 and 2, you get 8! (2+2+2+2=8) We Wonder what your favorite part of our sky falling Wonder was? :)

    • It was really beautiful to watch, wasn’t it, Vanessa? We thought it was peaceful and calming. Thank you for your comment and for being a WONDERful Wonder Friend! :-)

  7. I really liked this movie and I have one thing I would like to ask about this movie.
    In the video I was wondering if it was a shooting star in the sky or a comet?

    • Thanks for telling us how much you enjoyed our Wonder video, Kathy! We enjoyed the meteor shower in the video– we Wonder if you have ever seen one in person? :)

    • You’ve got it, Wonder Friend Caleb! We are so very glad that you enjoy WONDERing with us– we are smiling from ear to ear! Have a super day, we look forward to WONDERing with you again soon! :)

    • We love your creativity, Carlos! Thanks for sharing your new language with us – we hope you keep using your imagination to create new, WONDERful things! :)

    • Hey there, Berkleigh, thanks for sharing your comment with us! We are glad you enjoyed this Wonder, we are glad you used such a great word to describe it — INTERESTING! :)

  8. That was so cool. I have seen a lot of those cool videos and I always wonder how the video man records the sky so fast.

    • Great question, Yossi! We are glad you enjoyed our Wonder and you’ve been thinking about how the sky is recorded so quickly. The type of technique the video features is called “time lapse” – this technique speeds up the video recording so it looks like the sky is moving super fast! Pretty neat, isn’t it? :)

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us about “space junk” today – we’re glad that the sky is NOT falling! However, sometimes things do fall from the sky, with the help of gravity. We look forward to WONDERing with you again soon! :)

    • Thanks for telling us about what you learned today, Wonder Friends Donavin, Kamarien, and Mackenzie! It sounds like you’ve learned a lot from today’s Wonder– we’ll keep our eyes peeled for space junk from now on! We love reading your comments and can’t wait to Wonder with you again! :)

  9. Why did it say the sky is falling but it never said any thing about the sky falling? What makes the objects fall from the sky?

  10. I think that this video is awesome because you can see the stars move through the sky and those stars you see at night is burnt trash.

    • Great connections and questions, Donavin, Micaiah, and Romen! We have been thinking a lot about Chicken Little and the phrase “the sky is falling” today! We’re glad you have been, too! We’ve been WONDERing about gravity, which is a reason that objects fall from the sky. Have you checked out Wonder #372– When is it Good to Be Grounded? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/when-is-being-grounded-good/ :)

    • Cool connections to this falling Wonder, Lindsey, Rafael, and Edgar! We hope you’ll keep WONDERing with your awesome imaginations! We look forward to the next time you visit Wonderopolis! :)

  11. I wonder if some of the stars are space junk and if some of the moving stars are planes that are flying to the destination. I also can say that the words “the sky is falling” is from Chicken Little.

  12. connection: my connection is that the sky is falling is off of Chicken Little. But the video is boring because they only showed rocks in space they should have showed a meteoroid on fire going to Earth.

    • Space junk is made of lots of things, sometimes it’s pieces of old weather balloons, satellites, and even meteorites! We love your connections to our space Wonder, Carlos, Kayla, and DeMetrius! Thanks for WONDERing about space junk with us today! :)

  13. This article taught me a lot about space junk and reminded me about Chicken Little. I also wonder why the stars move and how hot they are. 8-) I didn’t know that there was so much space junk. I loved the video too. This article is fabtabulous xD !!!!!

  14. Connection: I have seen giant things fall from the sky on a movie, but that was fake. But there has been things like pieces of trash falling from the sky on the news before.

    • WOOHOO we love your thoughts and connections in your comments today, Jessica, Elizabeth, and Micaiah! You’ve done a great job sharing what you’ve learned today and we hope to Wonder about another cool topic with you soon! :)

  15. The reading on, is the sky falling is really cool I didn’t know that little things can fall from the sky and aim at people and the picture was very beautiful. I hope one day I can go to outerspace and discover something new maybe I will go space with friends we will take pictures of what we saw. I will enjoy it if I don’t blow up.

    • Hi MT! Sky Falling is really beautiful and such an interesting idea! You get to see a different perspective of the world that otherwise would not be seen! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  16. WOW I never knew that satellites could fall to Earth! That was really cool. I learn a ton from Wonderopolis. I will have to go to the website more and see what I can find out. Thanks Wonderopolis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Share

  • Wonderopolis on Facebook
  • Wonderopolis on Pinterest
  • Print

Have you ever wondered…

  • Is the sky falling?
  • What is space junk?
  • What’s the difference between a meteoroid, a meteor and a meteorite?

Wonder Gallery

falling star)shutterstock_60569284Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Are you up for exploring meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites in greater depth? Find an adventurous friend or family member to help you check out one or more of the following activities:

  • Ever WONDER what might happen if a meteorite were to hit Earth? Check out the Impact Earth! website to run the numbers on all sorts of different disaster scenarios. For example, you can choose a specific size for your theoretical meteorite, or you can choose a size — from a school bus to the continent of Asia — from the drop-down menu. You can also choose other variables, including impact angle and velocity. Are some of these scenarios scary? What do you think life would be like if a meteorite the size of a school bus hit the continent you live on?
  • Guess what? Meteorites have hit Earth many times in the past. You can check out the details of Famous Craters from the past. Learning more about these past events can help you predict what future events might look like. Have you ever seen a real crater up close? Do a search online to see if there are any craters near where you live that you could visit.
  • If you’re really worried that the sky might be falling, though, it might be good to revisit the story of Chicken Little (sometimes called Henny Penny or Chicken Licken). You can read The Remarkable Story of Chicken Little online. And remember: when you encounter a “Chicken Little” who tells you the sky is falling, you can always fall back on what you know about probabilities! If you’re up for a challenge, you can also make up your own story inspired by Chicken Little that uses real-life events and the facts you learned in today’s Wonder of the Day. Have fun and be creative!

Still Wondering

Watch National Geographic Education’s So, You Want to Build a Satellite? video to learn more about artificial satellites and their many uses.

 

Test Your Knowledge

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day may test your strength!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.