When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come true
Who hasn’t felt a bit excited or even lucky to have spotted a falling star. Who hasn’t remembered that old Disney song and made a silent wish to themselves. What if I told you that falling stars have nothing at all to do with stars, and not only that, but they aren’t rare events at all?
A falling star, or shooting star, is the common name for the visible path of a meteoroid as it enters the atmosphere. A meteoroid is a bit of space debris made of dust and rock or metal.
Once it enters Earths atmosphere is begins to burn up and produces a streak of light we can see, we call that a meteor. Each meteor is a short-lived event, lasting only a few seconds. Every day about 100 tons of meteoroids enter the Earth’s atmosphere, every single day! In fact if you stand outside at night for about half an hour, you are bound to see at least one.
Now if you happen to see a particularly bright meteor that is called a fireball and if that particularly bright meteor happens to also explode at the end, it is called a bolide.
Fireballs sound like rare events too but several thousand of them occur in the Earth’s atmosphere each day. It’s just that most of them happen over oceans or areas where humans don’t live and a lot happen during the day where it’s too bright to see them. Even the ones that happen at night stand little chance of being seen due to the fact that no one is out to notice them.
After a meteor goes through the burning up process in the atmosphere, if any of it survives and hits the Earth’s surface, then it is then called a meteorite.
Meteoroid, meteor, meteorite, got it?
I have seen a few meteors before, and I even saw a fireball once, but, unfortunately, it didn’t explode. I have always wanted to find a meteorite but I may have to settle for just buying one online.
One thing I always forget to do is watch a meteor shower. Meteor showers happen at certain times of the year when the Earth passes through the trail of a comet orbiting the sun. Each meteor shower has it’s own name that is based on the constellation it appears to originate from in the night sky. They do not actually come from that constellation they just appear to. Classifying them this way is just an easy way to tell people where to look in the sky
Luckily I, and you, have a chance to catch one this month! The Lyrids Meteor Shower lasts every year from April 16th thru the 26th. Its radiate from the constellation Lyra and the dust particles are left behind by the comet “C/1861 G1 Thatcher”. The name looks confusing but that’s ok, the important thing is when the peak time to watch is. The peak time is when you could see up to 20 meteors an hour and it will happen this year on the night of April 22nd and the morning of April 23rd.
According to seasky.org, the moon will set shortly after midnight “leaving fairly dark skies for what could be a good show”. It will be a work night for me but I think I might try to catch it anyway. Will you?
Stars are often born in clusters, in giant clouds of gas and dust. This composite image shows one of the clusters, NGC 2024, which is found in the center of the so-called Flame Nebula, an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It is about 900 to 1,500 light-years away.
In this image, X-rays from Chandra are seen as purple, while infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are colored red, green, and blue.The stars at the center of NGC 2024 were about 200,000 years old while those on the outskirts were about 1.5 million years in age.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.