What Is a Shooting Star?

Shooting stars look like blazing stars flying through the distant heavens. But a shooting star is not a star at all, and it’s not very distant, either!

In ancient times, people thought that shooting stars were just part of the weather, like lightning or fog. But we know now that shooting stars are actually objects from outer space.

Pieces of rock, some big and some very tiny, are floating everywhere in space. Some of these chunks of rock, called meteors, are attracted to earth and enter our atmosphere.

Meteors approach earth at speeds of up to 50 miles a second, and air friction heats them up until they glow like stars. When you see a shooting star, you’re really looking at a meteor as it burns up in our atmosphere. But you have to be quick to see a shooting star: They usually don’t last more than a second or two before they burn up completely and disappear.

A few of the meteors that reach earth don’t burn up completely in our atmosphere. About 75 million meteors enter our atmosphere each day, but only one or two ever reaches the ground!