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How Fast Do Meteors Travel? What You Need to Know!

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falling meteor

As you probably know, meteors are pieces of space rock that enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. But how fast do they travel?

While the answer depends on many factors, meteors can travel anywhere from 25,000 to 160,000 miles per hour! The faster ones are usually the ones that cause the most damage when they hit the ground.

Fortunately, most meteors are small and burn up completely before they reach the ground. But if you ever see a bright streak of light in the sky, it’s probably a meteor! And if you’re lucky, you might even be able to see it with your naked eye.

telescope divider 2Why Do Meteors Travel So Fast?

Given the incredible speeds that meteors travel at, you might be wondering why they don’t just burn up in the atmosphere. After all, friction from air resistance is what makes things like bullets and rockets heat up as they move.

The answer has to do with the difference between speed and velocity. Velocity takes into account both the object’s speed and direction, so an object can have a high velocity without necessarily having a high speed.

A meteor traveling very quickly in one direction will have a high velocity but a low speed if it’s traveling slowly in another direction. This means that even though air resistance might slow down the meteor’s speed, its velocity will remain relatively unchanged.

Meteor shower headed to earth

Image Credit: Vadim Sadovski, Shutterstock

How Do Meteors Differ from Meteorites and Meteoroids?

There’s often a lot of confusion about the difference between a meteor, a meteorite, and a meteoroid. Here’s a quick rundown:

Meteoroids

Meteoroids are small pieces of space rock, usually no bigger than a grain of sand. They’re so tiny that they pose no threat to Earth whatsoever. In fact, most meteoroids burn up in our atmosphere long before they ever reach the ground.

Meteors

Meteors are what we call those meteoric fireball streaks that you sometimes see streaking across the night sky. When a meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere, it rubs against the air molecules and creates friction.

This friction causes the meteoroid to heat up and start glowing; that’s what we see as a meteor. Most meteors are just tiny specks of dust, but sometimes they can be as large as a boulder.

fireball meteorite

Image Credit: Alexyz3d, Shutterstock

Meteorites

Meteorites are what we call those rare meteoroids that actually make it all the way to Earth’s surface. Meteoroids are constantly falling from the sky, but most of them are so small that they burn up before they ever reach us.

As with meteors, meteorites can be anything from pebble-sized rocks to massive boulders, and they usually land in remote areas where there aren’t many people around to see them.

So now you know! The next time you see a streak of light in the sky, you can impress your friends by telling them it’s a meteor. And if you’re ever lucky enough to find a space rock on the ground, you can tell them it’s a meteorite.

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Final Thoughts

As you now know, meteors are capable of reaching incredible speeds. These amazing wonders of the universe continue to be seen around the world and often surprise those who witness them firsthand. The next time you see a meteor streaking through the night sky, remember how fast it’s traveling and be amazed at the natural beauty of these space rocks!


Featured Image Credit: urikyo33, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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