What are shooting stars?« Back to Questions List

There are many celestial objects that brighten the night sky. Of them comets are the rarest and the most elusive. These may remain visible for weeks or even months at a time, whereas shooting stars or meteorites streak across the sky and vanish within moments.


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Most of the shooting stars are caused by debris left behind when a comet passes by. When the fragments enter the atmosphere, friction causes them to vaporize and produce the streaks of light known as meteors, or shooting stars. Few others are also caused by the larger chunks of interplanetary debris that burn as they enter the atmosphere.


Hundreds of these rocks fall to earth each year. Most land in the ocean and the majority are very small. These rocks from outer space (meteors) are called meteorites if they reach the earth. They range in size from few ounces to several tons.


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Most predictable displays of meteors that happen every year at a particular time are called meteor showers. As the comet orbits the sun it sheds a cold dusty debris stream along its orbit. When earth passes through this stream, we witness meteor shower. At the peak of shower, dozens of meteors may fall every hour, all seeming to radiate from a particular constellation. The meteor shower is named with the name of the constellation that occurs in the region of the sky where the shower takes place.



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