Meteors, also Called Shooting Stars

by blackspanielgallery

Meteors are also what is commonly called shooting stars. Here is an explanation of meteors written for everyone.

What is a meteor? A meteor is something that enters the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space. As long as it is in the atmosphere it is called a meteor. After it reaches the ground it is called a meteorite. Few meteors survive the trip through the earth’s atmosphere. But, as they pass through the atmosphere, even though most are very small, they heat up due to friction and give off a bright glow as they vaporize. We call these glowing objects shooting stars, but they might be the size of a grain of sand.

Some of the heated material can condense into small round pieces of metal visible only under a microscope. These are called micrometeorites when they come to the ground. The best way to find micrometeorites, at least the metallic ones, is to catch rainwater, then collect them with a magnet. Wrapping the magnet with plastic wrap allows you to detach them from the magnet, and place them beneath a microscope for viewing.

Before a meteor enters the atmosphere they are not called meteors. Some are asteroids, others are comets or fragments of a comet.

Image from Amazon.

Where Do Comets Come from?

Comets Come from the Kuiper and the Ort Cloud

Surrounding our solar system is a belt of objects orbiting the sun.  The belt is called the Kuiper Belt.  Occasionally, these objects interact with each other, and some of them come in closer to the sun on long elliptical orbits.  Many times comets visit the inner part of the solar system on a regular basis once they come in  regular, repeated visits are common.


Comets are made of ice and solid material.  When a comet gets close enough to the sun some of the material vaporizes into a temporary atmosphere of the comet.  The solar wind, which is composed of photons and charged particles from the sun, push this material into the tail we are familiar with seeing.  The particles in the comet’s tail also orbit the sun, and when the Earth passes through an old comet tail we have a meteor shower. 


The Ort Cloud is a cloud of material that surrounds the solar system at an even greater distance, but the particles in this cloud, and some are rather large, can be dislodged and also travel into the inner solar system.  These are not arranged in a belt, and can come in from any direction.



Between Mars and Jupiter there is a belt of rocky objects called the Asteroid Belt.  These also can interact with each other, either by gravity or collision, and come close to the Earth.  These can also enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and become a meteor.


And Related Rock Structures

Meteorites can be rocky or metallic.  Sometimes they stand out, such as those at Antarctica where a rock on top of the ice is easily determined to have come from outer space.  Other times they leave other evidence.  Impactite  is fused rock, which shows evidence of having been melted and cooled into a glassy rock form.  Tektite is also evidence of a meteor impact.  Some people think tektite is the meteorite itself, but a more plausible explanation is the teardrop shapes of tektite were caused by melted material being thrown up after a collision.  Normal colors of tektite are black and green.


Large craters can also show evidence of a meteor impact.  The meteor literally pushes the ground out into one or more rings, and streams of material often leave lines of material emanating outward from the point of impact.  This is the kind of evidence a large impacting object might cause.  Of course the meteor can literally explode above the ground, and also excavate a crater.  Later erosion can reduce the evidence of an impact, but large objects leave evidence for very long periods.



Where Does the Heat Come from to Melt Rocks?

Meteorites move at high speeds, and that means they have a lot of kinetic energy.  When they encounter the atmosphere, friction slows them, but the conservation of energy causes them to heat up due to a loss of kinetic energy.  Impact with the ground means all of the remaining kinetic energy must be converted to heat and light, since the meteor loses all of its kinetic energy as it comes to a stop.


Finding Meteorites

Finding a meteorite is possible with a metal detector, but only metallic meteorites will be found using this technique.  However, it is worth the effort since meteorites can bring in a nice price if they are large enough.  In some cases a meteor will explode leaving a whore area rich in meteorites.

Viewing with a Telescope May Be Difficult

Meteors move so fast that there is no time to aim a telescope.  You can try setting your telescope up and aiming in the direction of a meteor shower, which is usually known, and viewing the sky, then hope.  I recommend a telescope capable of a wide view to enhance your chances, but do not think you are going to focus your eyes on the meteor and see its structure.  These objects move fast.



Updated: 07/29/2015, blackspanielgallery
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