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What Are Falling Stars?

For thousands of years men have looked up at falling stars and wondered what they were and where they come from. At one time it was believed that they came from other worlds.

Today we know that they are not stars at all. We call them meteors. They are small, solid bodies which travel through space, and which may also pass through the earth’s atmosphere.

When meteors come within our atmosphere, we can see them because they leave a fiery train of light. This is caused by the heat made by the friction, or rubbing, of air upon their surfaces.

Strangely enough, most individual meteor particles are quite small, about the size of a pinhead. Occasional meteors weigh many tons. Most meteors are destroyed entirely by heat as they pass through the earth’s atmosphere. Only the larger meteor fragments ever reach the earth.

Scientists believe that thousands of meteors fall to earth each day and night, but since most of the earth’s surface is covered by water, they usually fall into oceans and lakes.

Meteors may appear in the sky singly and travel in practically any direction. But meteors usually occur in swarms of thousands. As the earth travels in its path around the sun, it may come close to such swarms of meteors, they become fiery hot upon contact with the upper layers of the atmosphere, and we see a meteoric shower.

Where do meteors come from? Astronomers now believe that the periodic swarms of meteors are the broken fragments of comets. When comets break up, the millions of fragments continue to move through space like a meteor swarm or stream.

The swarms move in regular orbits, or paths, through space. One such swarm crosses the earth’s path every 33 years. When a piece of meteor reaches the earth, it is called a meteorite.

It has fallen to the earth because gravity has pulled it down. Far back in Roman times, in 467 B.C. a meteorite fell to the earth and its fall was considered such an important event that it was recorded by Roman historians!

Read: What Is the Brightest Star?