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The planets, the stars, the Moon, and the sun usually captivate our attention, but we all share in the excitement when we see something bright shoot across a dark sky. You may have heard about the catastrophic cosmic rock that killed off the dinosaurs and wonder about the possibility of one colliding with Earth again.
A meteor is essentially a burned-up piece of space rock, or more commonly known as a shooting star, that becomes a meteorite if it makes it down to Earth.
A Meteoroid is a space rock that can be as small as a dust grain or as big as a small asteroid. They are pieces of larger space bodies like comets, asteroids, and even the Moon. When the meteoroid enters the Earth’s, or any other planet’s atmosphere at high speed, they burn up, resulting in meteors. Most of them burn up before hitting the Earth, and in some instances, they deflect off the atmosphere and return to space. If a meteor survives the journey and makes it to earth, it is known as a meteorite.
More than 50,000 meteorites have been found on Earth, with 99.8% of them coming from asteroids. The remaining 0.2% come from the Moon and Mars. The classification of meteorites is complex, but generally speaking, they can be classed into three groups: stony, iron, and stony iron.
While the United States doesn’t have a radar dedicated to locating meteors, NASA has a network of 17 cameras that can identify streaks of light or fireballs in the sky and calculate their trajectories and speed.
Canada’s Meteor Orbit Radar is able to detect meteors that measure 0.04 inches while detecting the location, speed, and direction.
The Meteor Composition Determination experiment studies the chemical composition of the meteors that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. It analyses the physical and chemical properties of meteoroid dust along with taking high resolution videos and photos of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Space debris hits Earth every day. While most are no bigger than dust particles, they can be more devastating on rare occasions. Let’s look at some of the most famous sites meteorites that have crashed.
It is estimated that 48.5 tons of meteoritic material hits the Earth every day. Most of the material is vaporized, which leaves a bright trail of shooting stars. Sometimes the number of meteors is much greater, creating a meteor shower
Meteorites from meteors help scientists understand the planets of the solar system and what goes on deep inside them. This is how we know that Earth has a core, even though no one has ever been to the center of the Earth.
Research has revealed that 6,100 meteors that are large enough to reach the ground hit our planet yearly. Most of them fall unnoticed, but occasionally they will catch more attention.
The largest meteorite was discovered in Namibia in 1920 and is referred to as the Hoba. It weighs approximately 119,000 pounds, and because it is so heavy, it remains in the same location!
Here is a quick look at the differences between Meteors and Meteorites:
|When a meteoroid enters the Earth’s surface, it becomes a meteor||If a meteor survives the journey through the atmosphere and makes it to earth, it is known as a meteorite.|
|They are usually millimeter-sized and smaller||Their size ranges from the size of a pebble to 220 pounds or greater.|
|Bolides, fireballs, Earthgrazers||Stony, iron, stony-iron|
|Meteors are burning rocks||Combination of metal, nickel, and magnetic elements.|
While a meteor and a meteorite have significant differences, they come from the same mass of cosmic rock. A meteor can be seen in space as a bright light shooting across the sky, better known as a shooting star, and if it survives the journey to Earth, it becomes a meteorite. They can occasionally be found on Earth and sometimes create monumental craters.
Featured Image Credit: Triff, Shutterstock
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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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