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Uploaded:2017-08-10
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Have you ever looked up at night and seen a streak of light flash across the sky? Some people call that a "shooting star," but it's not actually a star at all! Join Jessi and Squeaks to learn what shooting stars really are and how they happen!

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SOURCES:
http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/space/meteoroids.html
https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/meteors/basic
https://www.space.com/32868-perseid-meteor-shower-guide.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/space/8190587/What-is-a-meteor.html
http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/75-our-solar-system/comets-meteors-and-asteroids/meteorites/313-how-many-meteorites-hit-earth-each-year-intermediate
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-causes-a-meteor-show/
Squeaks and I built this awesome observatory recently, and we love using it to look at the night sky!

If you’ve ever looked up on a dark, clear night, you probably noticed that there are a lot of things to see. You can see the Moon, the stars, and even some planets!

And if you’re really lucky, you might get to see a meteor: a streak of light that bursts across the sky. Since the light that meteors make looks kind of like the bright light that stars make, a lot of people call meteors “shooting stars.” But meteors aren’t stars at all! Stars are big balls of gas way out in space, far, far away from the Earth.

But meteors are caused by pieces of rock and metal that are pulled close to the Earth. It all starts when a small piece of rock or metal breaks away from something bigger in space. Most of the time, these pieces are small — not much bigger than a grain of rice.

And some are only about the size of a piece of dust! When the pieces fall toward Earth, they’re going so fast that they heat up the air all around them and burn up, making the air glow. That’s the light we see in the sky — it’s a little piece of rock or metal burning up!

We call the falling piece a meteoroid, and the light it makes is the meteor. When the meteoroid is completely burned, the meteor is gone, and the light disappears. If the piece is very small, the light might only last for less than a second.

If the piece is larger, though, the streak might race the whole way across the sky! And if the piece is large enough, it can make it all the way through the layer of gases… and hit the surface of the Earth. If it does, then it gets a new name … a meteorite. [Squeaks squeaks] I know!

That’s a lot of words that sound almost the same. But they’re all different: the meteor is the streak of light, the meteoroid is what we call the bit of rock or metal as it falls, and the meteorite is what we call it when it hits the ground. Thousands of meteorites fall to the ground every year, but most of them are really small, so we don’t notice them!

And there are even more meteoroids that burn up before they can get to the ground. During certain times of the year, there are a lot more meteors than usual. There can be 60 of them in an hour!

That’s called a meteor shower, because there are so many meteors falling through the sky that it’s almost like we’re taking a shower in them! [Squeaks laughs] I know, that is kind of funny! Can you imagine taking a shower in falling rocks and dust? I think I’d rather stick to water instead Meteor showers happen because of something else in outer space, called a comet.

Comets are usually very far away from the Earth, all the way out at the edge of the solar system. But sometimes one passes close by, right near the path where Earth moves around the sun! As it passes by, some dust from the comet breaks off, and the dust can stay in that spot for a really long time.

Every year, when the Earth gets close to the spot where the dust is as it moves around the sun, lots of the dust falls toward Earth, and each little piece of it creates a meteor. That’s when we get a meteor shower! There are a few different meteor showers all throughout the year.

There are big ones in January, April, May, July, August, October, November, and December, so there are lots of chances to see them! In fact, Squeaks and I are about to get to see one of the biggest meteor showers of the year, called the Perseids. The best nights to see it are right around August 12.

You can ask a grownup to help you find out when you’ll next be able to see a meteor shower. Then, all you need to do is to find a dark spot, look up … and enjoy the light show! Have you ever seen a meteor?

How about a meteor shower? Ask a grownup to help you leave a comment below, or send us an email at kids@scishow.com.