It is often said that when you see a shooting star in the night sky, you can make a wish and that, if it is not said out loud, it will come true. However, although these natural phenomena have a truly magical beauty, their nature is very different from what many harbor in their imagination.
What are shooting stars and how are they created
Shooting stars are natural phenomena that can be observed from the earth’s surface on nights when the sky is clear. Its appearance is that of a star that appears suddenly in the celestial vault and that, to the amazement of those who observe it, moves in a straight line for a few fractions of a second, leaving a white trail behind it, then , disappear without a trace.
When we see a shooting star, what we are actually observing is a fragment of dust, ice or rock that was in space and that, due to the gravity of our planet, falls towards the surface. When this happens, the friction that this space object has with the atmosphere causes it to reach very high temperatures and, consequently, it becomes incandescent and glow. In this way, it is how shooting stars are formed , and how their brightness and the trail they leave behind are produced.
Difference between meteoroid, meteor and meteorite
Broadly speaking, it is often said that a shooting star is a meteorite. But, despite this, the reality is that it would be more correct to say that a shooting star is a meteor , since meteorites would be the remains that some of these shooting stars leave when they reach the surface of the planet. In fact, there are three concepts that it is good to know how to locate in order to understand the whole process that a shooting star goes through: meteoroid, meteor and meteorite :
When we speak of a meteoroid we are referring to space objects that wander aimlessly in space. These are small objects if we compare them with asteroids or comets. Even so, they are objects that can reach up to more than ten meters, so they are small space objects, but of a considerable size on the human scale. These meteoroids can be made of many different materials, although the most common is that they are particles of dust or ice, or rocks made of different materials. Its origin is in the creation of the Solar System itself, as well as some coming from other outer places. It is, to put it simply, material that was not added to either the sun or any of the planets during the process of creating the Solar System, and consequently
A meteor is a meteoroid that, for whatever reason, ends up trapped in the Earth’s gravitational field and, consequently, rushes towards the planet’s surface. When this happens, the friction of the atmosphere causes it to reach very high temperatures and, consequently, to shine. That is, meteors are what is popularly known as a shooting star.
Finally, although most meteors disintegrate as a result of friction with the atmosphere and reach the surface in the form of dust that does not leave a trace, it may also be the case that some solid and macroscopic-sized fragments (visible to the eye human) do reach the surface. In these cases, we are dealing with rocks that come from space and are what are called meteorites.
Why less and less shooting stars are seen
In the old days, shooting stars were a very common phenomenon. However, today it is increasingly difficult to see them. One might think that the main cause is that, as they fall to the planet, there are fewer and fewer meteoroids in space and that, therefore, it is increasingly difficult to see stars and especially fleeting ones.
In reality, the number of meteoroids that remain in our near space environment is very high. What happens is that, due to the light pollution produced by humans, the quality of the sky we see is lower in the sense that there is more light and, consequently, although there are shooting stars or normal stars, it is very complicated, or even impossible, get to see them. This gives an answer to why the stars are not seen in citiesor very few are seen, as this problem occurs especially in urban centers, where light pollution is greater. However, in places on the planet where light pollution is scarce, or even non-existent, on clear nights a large number of these spectacular natural phenomena can be seen.