Look a shooting Star…or is it a meteor, or a meteorite, or a comet, or an asteroid???

November 19, 2020

How do we know what is what with all these names??

Last Night on our tour someone asked what is a shooting star?  Then when answered they asked so what is the difference between a comet and an asteroid? So que a great excuses to write an article on the subject!  Nearly every night we will see some shooting stars.  Earlier in the year we were treated to the spectacle of Comet Neowise (not to be seen for over 6500 years again by human eyes from Earth).  So what are they all??

Lets start with comets and Asteroids.  In general a Comet will of formed far away from the Sun and is generally made of rock and Ice.  An Asteroid usually formed a lot closer to the Sun and usually made of heavy metals.  Comets tend to have further flung orbits around the sun and have much longer orbital periods than Asteroids.  When a comet comes close to the Sun, heat from the sun is what causes ice and other materials on a comet’s surface to vaporize. That vapor is what is seen as the appearance of a tail behind it, whereas, Asteroids tend to not break up so easily under the heat of the Sun.  One main exception of this is the Asteroid 3200 Phaethon,

the source of the Geminid meteor shower. (Member read more about the Geminids peaking in December below)

So there we seem to have a reasonable definition of the difference between a comet and an asteroid.  So when we see shooting stars what are they?  Most shooting stars are the small pieces of comets or asteroids that have broken up.  When they are floating around between inter planetary space they are called a meteoroid.  The streak of light you see in the Night Sky is called a Meteor!  This is caused by a small piece of these materials entering the Earths Atmosphere.  Most are only about the size of a grain of sand!!!

When a Meteor enters the Earths atmosphere at high speed (up to 80,000MPH) the frictional heating caused by the collisions with atoms and molecules in our atmosphere is what makes them burn so bright that we see them shoot across the sky.

Most meteorids tht enter Earths atmosphere burn up completely as meteors.  However, on occasion,  some make it through not completley burning up in the atmosphere and make it to the Earth Surface.  Any chunks that survive their firey journey to the Earths surface are called Meteorites!  A small body starts its life as a meteoroid floating through space between the planets until it makes a bright streak of light in Earth’s atmosphere as a meteor and then, if it isn’t consumed by frictional heating, finally lands on the ground as a meteorite.  We actually had some pieces about the size of coins land in the North of Tenerife earlier this year.  Every year, the Earth is hit by about 6100 meteors large enough to reach the ground, or about 17 every day  but less than 10 are recovered each year.  To date, there have been nearly 1,100 recovered falls (meteorites seen to fall) and nearly 40,000 finds (found, but not seen to fall).

Until next time this is Kieran saying by to you all, unless you are a member of our new Moon Light Members Club  and have access to exclusive content and our incredible members offers then please keep reading to discover more about the details of THE GEMINIDS METEOR SHOWER COMING IN DECEMBER 2020….

Join the club and recieve special offers, discounts and bonus members content Moonlight Members Club sign up!

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