Shooting stars light up the night sky and make for a wonderful show as they streak across the horizon. However, these are not really stars falling out of the sky, as the name would imply. Rather, they are particles of dust and meteors that have broken away from larger asteroids and comets.
They range in size from small particles similar to sand, to chunks of minerals as big as boulders. It is interesting to note, if the object makes it to Earth, it is scientifically classified as a meteorite, and if it is smaller than a particle of sand it is classified as space dust.
As the meteors enter earth’s atmosphere, they are moving at very high speeds, where they encounter resistance from air particles. As they “rub” against the air particles, it creates friction. The friction causes heat energy to be created. It is this heat energy that lights up the night sky as the meteor is essentially burned up and dissolved. Depending on the size of the meteor, the light effects seen from the ground can be quick and fast to slightly longer.
In very rare cases, part of the meteor will make its way through the atmosphere and reach the earth’s surface. When an impact does occur, the object is called a meteorite. Due to the high speeds, impacts from meteorites can create craters into the earth up to 20 times the actual size of the meteorite.
Meteorite crater impacts are quite noticeable on the moon, and there have been several throughout the world. One of the more famous craters, Meteor Crater, is located in the northern Arizona dessert, about 37 miles east of Flagstaff, AZ. Of interest is scientists and others avidly agree, the crater was misnamed and should have been called Meteorite Crater.
There have also been cases where meteors have exploded while still in the air, before actually hitting the ground. One such case occurred in June 30, 1908 over Siberia, Russia and is called the Tunguska Event. Witnesses at that time reported seeing a fireball streaking through the sky that exploded. The explosion sent out shockwaves, knocking over trees and damaging buildings in nearby villages. After the explosion, dust particles were released into the atmosphere, where they continued to light the night sky over the next several evenings.
A more recent incident, similar to the Tunguska Event, occurred over Chelyabinsk, Russia on February 15, 2013, where a meteor also exploded prior to impacting the earth. Scientists estimated the size of the meteor was around 17 meters wide and the explosion took place approximately between 12 to 15 miles above the ground. The explosion did release shockwaves, with energy levels up to 40 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WWII, and it injured over 1,000 people and damaged numerous buildings.
This recent event has brought to light the potential damage meteors could pose, and increased awareness within the scientific and astronomy communities. However, the likelihood of devastating impacts or explosions are still rare occurrences. You can keep a record of meteor shower events throughout the years, by recording the dates and times of events in scientific notebooks available from Scientific Notebook Company. Contact us at 800.537.3028 to place your order today!