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Meteor Facts

You can wish on many objects in the night sky, like the stars or the Moon. But the most magical one would probably be a shooting star. You can spot one, blink, and lose it just like that! Since shooting stars are so hard to see, they become even more beautiful.  But the title shooting star is really kind of misleading. In fact, shooting stars are not stars at all. They are actually meteors! 

an image of a meteor over pine trees.

A shooting star is a gorgeous sight to behold!

Meteoroids, Meteors, or Meteorites? 

Meteors are only one stage of a “shooting star’s” entire lifespan. These stages are all different from each other, so be sure to distinguish between the 3! 
Meteoroids: this is what meteors begin their life as! Meteoroids are like asteroids, but much, much smaller. Lots of meteoroids are actually formed when 2 asteroids hit each other! Meteoroids are the pieces of asteroids that get knocked off in the impact. They are basically small rocks – or pebbles – that float in space! 

A 3D illustration of tiny space rocks, or meteroids.

Meteoroids are space rocks smaller than asteroids – not space rocks, but space pebbles!

Meteors: this is the “shooting star” stage of a meteoroid! Meteoroids normally orbit slowly around the Sun. But when a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, things get heated – literally! The friction between the gases in the air and the meteoroid make it burn up like a flame.
As a burning meteoroid falls down quickly, it leaves behind a bright trail in the sky. These burning streaks are the meteors that we know of! If the meteoroid is a little bigger, you might see a fireball with more flames instead! 
Meteorites: these are what gets left over from meteors falling down from space! Some meteors are big enough that they don’t burn up completely by the time they hit the ground. So the rocks that remain from meteors that land on Earth are meteorites! Small meteorites hit the Earth very often – more than thousands of tiny pieces every year! Big meteorite collisions are much less common. 

An image of a meteorite mostly buried.

Meteorites are meteors that have landed on Earth! They may seem like normal rocks at first, but don’t let their looks fool you!

Types of Meteorites

Scientists have found a lot of meteorites and meteorite fragments on Earth. So, they’ve created a system to separate the meteorites into 3 main types! Iron meteorites are – predictably – made of mostly metals. Iron meteorites are typically mixtures of nickel and iron. Stony meteorites are mostly rocky with small bits of iron. The last type is stony-iron meteorites. These are like the Goldilocks zone – equal parts iron and stone! If you want to learn more about different meteorite types, click here! 

An image of a metallic meteor, with the sheen of metal.

This iron meteorite is very metallic – you can see how it shines in the light!

The Biggest Meteorites Ever Found

Some meteorites tend to shatter once they get through the Earth’s atmosphere. But luckily for meteorite lovers, some remain intact. There are some pretty large meteorites that have been found on our planet. But the largest complete meteorite ever found on Earth is Hoba! It’s an iron meteorite found in Namibia, and it’s about 66 tonnes in weight! That’s like the weight of 15 adult elephants! 

An image of the Hoba meteor, slightly square and flat.

The Hoba meteorite is so large that it hasn’t been moved since it was found!

The strange thing about Hoba is that it isn’t surrounded by a crater. When meteors crash, the impact tends to leave huge holes called craters behind. Given how massive Hoba is, you would expect there to be signs of a crater! But there is none at all. Scientists speculate that the meteorite’s flat shape made it bounce across the Earth’s surface. Kind of like skipping rocks, only thousands of times bigger! 

Meteor Showers

Lone meteors may be hard to spot, but there are special times in the year where hundreds of meteors appear in the night sky. These are meteor showers! Meteor showers are absolutely dazzling to watch. There are a couple of them that you should definitely stay up for. Bring a deck chair, warm clothes, and your water bottle – and you’re all set! 
  • The Quadrantids that are at their best on the 3rd January 

  • The Lyrids that are at their best on 22nd April

  • The Perseids on the 12th August 

  • The Orionids on 22nd October

  • The Leonids on 17th November 

  • The Geminids on 14th December. 

An image of meteors falling during a meteor shower.

Normally you wouldn’t know when a meteor was about to fall. But meteor showers have set dates that you can put on your calendar

You might be wondering why so many meteors appear at once during meteor showers! Well, meteor showers happen when Earth moves through the tail of a comet! A pretty unique occasion, isn’t it? If you know a little about a comet’s tail, you’ll know that it’s made of gases, dust, and small, rocky bits. Once these tiny rocks get into the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up and become meteors!

An illustration of a pretty comet with a long blue tail.

When a comet passes Earth, its tail leaves behind tiny space debris. These rocks become the meteors that we see in meteor showers!

Other Great Resources


Difference Between Meteors, Meteoroids, and Meteorites: https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-a-meteoroid-a-meteor-and-a-meteorite

NASA Starchild on Meteors: https://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/solar_system_level2/meteoroids.html

Meteors, Meteorites, and Impactshttp://nineplanets.org/meteorites.html



Crash Course Astronomy on Meteors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuDfZ2Md5x8

Short Animation on Meteors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4QrnC9vLs8

Differences Between the Many Rocks in Space: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvd47rMYia0


Written by: Minh Nguyen 




A falling meteor

Image: NASA

air around them as they fly into the atmosphere and burn up.

Perseid meteor in the atmosphere

Image: NASA


Map of Antartica where many meteorites have been found

Image courtesy of Lunar and Planetary Institute


This meteorite is from the Moon

Image courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center

This meteorite came from the moon.


A meteor streaks across the sky

Image: NASA


Meteor shower

Image: NASA


Meteor Crater in Arizona