What is a falling star and what causes it to fall?
(Lansing State Journal, January 14, 1998)



Falling stars are small, solid bodies that enter the Earth’s atmosphere as they travel through space.  These stars are commonly called meteors. Meteors can enter the our atmosphere with a velocity that ranges from ten to seventy km/sec. These meteors can plunge into the atmosphere at velocities ranging from ten to seventy kilometers per second.  Consequently, the friction that is created is great enough to cause the meteor to begin burning up which produces the light that we refer to as a falling star.  A meteor shower occurs when hundreds of meteors fall simultaneously.  Therefore, our atmosphere acts as a buffer zone which protects the Earth’s surface from impacts by many meteors that burn up as they travel through our atmosphere. In space there is no such barrier, so these meteors don't burn up. Since the moon does not have an atmosphere as thick as ours, many scientists have suggested that some of the craters on the moon may have resulted from the impacts of meteors.

Meteors that impact Earth are called meteorites.  These meteorites are composed primarily of rocks and dust.  Meteorites are categorized according to their composition.  Some of these categories include iron, stony iron and chondrite. Most meteorites fall into the chondrite category.  Many of the materials found in meteorites are also found in the Earth’s mantle and crust of.  The mantle is the dense molten core of the Earth which we see as the lava that erupts from volcanoes.  The crust is the surface of Earth that we live on.

In 1908 a meteor struck Siberia.  While no crater was created by the impact of the meteorite, trees were flattened and the damage that resulted spanned a 60 kilometer area.


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