What is a Shooting Star?

Jan 25, 2018

A meteor shower is always a good excuse to get outside and look into the night sky. But it’s not the only time when you can see a streak of light overhead.

Astronomy contributor and Manfred Olson Planetarium director Jean Creighton says that while people generally know shooting stars have something to do with solar system debris, many don't know its origin.

"The shooting star is what we see in our atmosphere, but it starts earlier and farther away from either the chunk of an asteroid or comet - which are called meteoroids in the void of space," she explains.

Meteorites typically travel at about 80,000 miles an hour when they enter Earth's atmosphere, Creighton explains. "They slam into our atmosphere and because of friction they often break into smaller pieces, and because they're moving so fast these individual pieces make the air around them glow - which is why you see those streaks of light."

Creighton says that you can see shooting stars every day - an average of 5 enter the atmosphere every hour. "But if you wanted to increase your chances... wait for a meteor shower."