Facts about shooting stars: what causes a shooting star?

Shooting stars, otherwise known as meteor showers, form when dust from other space objects (such as asteroids and comets) enters the Earth’s atmosphere. To form a shooting star, it must enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed. When they enter, the specks of dust rub together with the Earth’s air particles. Causing friction, which heats the specks of dust. This heat then burns the meteor, which creates the shooting star. A shooting star is a meteor burning up.

Facts about shooting stars: when do they form?

Sometimes, shooting stars can form almost randomly. Other times, astronomers can predict when we are to experience a series of shooting stars (otherwise known as a meteor shower).

Astronomers can determine whether the Earth will come into contact with the stream of dust debris that an asteroid or comet has left behind. As each speck of dust enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it will rub against the air particles, develop friction, and burn up. It will happen on a vast scale, meaning those on Earth can witness a meteor shower. The more dust enters our atmosphere; the more intense our meteor shower will be.

Do shooting stars have tails?

Sometimes, depending on the size of the shooting star. For example, when giant shooting stars, known as fireballs, enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they can be seen to have a large redhead with a tail following behind.

How far away are shooting stars?

We can see a shooting star around 75 and 120 kilometers from Earth. The rocks are usually meteors (which means that they have burned up) by the time they are between 50 and 95 kilometers from Earth. If the stone does not thoroughly burn up, it is named a meteorite once it lands on the Earth’s surface; this is a rare occasion, and rocks that enter the Earth’s atmosphere will usually turn into shooting stars before having the chance to land on Earth.

How common is it to see a shooting star?

Shooting stars are prevalent. Rocks from space regularly enter the Earth’s atmosphere, with around one million shooting stars occurring daily worldwide. Therefore, the sky should be clear to see a shooting star. The best way to see one is to stare at one point in the sky for around 20 minutes. There are usually around two shooting stars per hour, but the best time to see them is during a meteor shower because there will be many more than usual all over the sky. Shooting stars occur in the daytime but can be seen more clearly in the sky at night.

What are the different types of a shooting stars?

This question asks, ‘what is the difference between a meteor, meteoroid, and meteorite?’; they can all refer to shooting stars, but their definition changes depending on where they are concerning Earth.


Meteoroids are pieces of space dust. We call them meteoroids only while they are in space, and they can range from the size of tiny grains of sand to large asteroids.


Meteors are meteoroids once they have entered a planet’s atmosphere and burned up. They are otherwise known as shooting stars or fireballs.


Meteorites are rocks that manage to reach the ground of a planet after surviving the atmosphere. These are much rarer than meteoroids and meteors.

Some fun facts about shooting stars

  • The name ‘shooting star’ is very misleading as they do not have anything to do with stars.
  • They form due to space rock entering a planet’s atmosphere and burning up.
  • Shooting stars can come in different colors due to the rock’s minerals.
  • For example, iron, one of the most common metals found in meteoroids, glows yellow when it burns.
  • The best time to view them is at night, but they can happen anytime.
  • It is helpful for scientists to study shooting stars because it helps them to learn more about the weather, the Earth’s atmosphere, and space objects.
  • Shooting stars get smaller as they fall through the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • They can move through the atmosphere at speeds of up to 48,280 kilometers per hour.
  • While burning up, they can get up to 1648 degrees Celsius.
  • They can also form fireballs. These occur when a larger dust (meteor) burns up and explodes in different directions; this can cause a large, bright flash known as a fireball. It can be seen in the daytime and can be heard up to 48 kilometers away.

Key vocabulary:

  • Meteor: a piece of space rock that has entered the atmosphere of a planet, been heated due to friction with air particles, and has burnt up, causing a streak of light.
  • Asteroid: large pieces of rock that orbit the Sun.
  • Meteor shower: the production of many meteors at once due to the collision of the Earth’s atmosphere with the debris left behind from a comet or asteroid.
  • Shooting star: a meteor.
  • Earth’s atmosphere is the layer of gas surrounding Earth, held by the planet’s gravity.
  • Debris: loose natural material made of rock.
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