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What are shooting stars? How are they formed and how often do they occur during the night?

Also, why are there more shooting stars on some nights than on others?

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marked as duplicate by MBR, Guillochon, UV-D, Rory Alsop, Undo Oct 1 '13 at 14:10

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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A shooting star is simply the visible path a meteriod takes burning up in the atmosphere. As it flies through the atmosphere, it leaves a trail of fire, creating the streak of light you see.

Before they enter the atmosphere, they are simply chunks of rock. They could form in one of many ways - be broken off of a planet, etc. After they do this:

enter image description here

they look like this:

enter image description here

As for the reasons for meteor frequency varying, it's because of where the Earth is in it's orbit around the sun. Since almost all meteors are in orbit around the sun, and there tend to be clumps of them, this makes a 'donut' of meteors in orbit around the sun.

When the earth intersects one of these donuts, there is a spike in meteor activity. Ultimately, it's about how many space-rocks happen to hit Earth.

One annual 'high', for example, is the Perseid peak, which tends to occur mid-late summer each year. Sometimes, this even delays launches of space vehicles.

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A shooting star is a rock from space that is entering the atmosphere at such a great speed that the air superheats it to a bright white-hot glow.

When one of these rocks is floating around in space, it's called a meteoroid (-oid sounds like some sort of space-y future-y thing: think asteroid, android, humanoid).

When it's found in the ground after it's already landed, it's called a meteorite (-ite sounds like a mineral-y rock-type thing you find in the ground: think pyrite, graphite, kryptonite).

For the brief period of time between when they are meteoroids and meteorites, they are simply called meteors, a.k.a. shooting stars. (Think: Aaahh! ...look out for that METEOR!)

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