Meteor and Meteorite (Encyclopedia of Science)
Meteors, also known as "shooting stars," are fragments of extraterrestrial material or, more often, small particles of dust left behind by a comet's tail. We encounter meteors every time Earth crosses the path of a comet or the debris left behind a comet. Meteors vaporize and fizzle in the atmosphere and never reach Earth's surface. At certain times of the year, large swarms of meteors, all coming from roughly the same direction, can be seen. These are called meteor showers.
Meteorites are larger chunks of rock, metal, or both that break off an asteroid or a comet and come crashing through Earth's atmosphere to strike the surface of Earth. They vary in size from a pebble to a three-ton chunk.
Early discoveries about meteors and meteorites
Until the end of the eighteenth century, people believed that meteors and meteorites were atmospheric occurrences, like rain. Other theories held that they were debris spewed into the air by exploding volcanoes, or supernatural phenomena, like signs from angry gods.
The first breakthrough in determining the true origins of meteors and meteorites came in 1714 when English astronomer Edmond Halley (1656742) carefully reviewed reports of their sightings. After calculating the height and speed of the objects, he concluded they must have come from space. However, he found that other...
(The entire section is 909 words.)
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