I hope a meteor falls on your head.


I hope a meteorite falls on your head.

And why?

Definition of meteor

Definition of meteorite

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    $\begingroup$ The definition of meteorite explains it: a meteor does not reach the earth's surface $\endgroup$ – user1569 Sep 18 '18 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ If someone picks up a meteorite and drops it from a height, then it could fall on someone's head. So either one could work! But both of these are meant to be admired and studied, not hitting people's heads. $\endgroup$ – Alphecca Sep 18 '18 at 19:01

In ancient times people sometimes saw things in the sky, and they did not know what caused them. They called these things (in Greek) "ta meteora" or "things in heaven". Some of these we know call "stars" others "planets" and some "comets". We understand those to be bodies in space.

Other "meteora" we now understand to be atmospheric effects, for example "clouds" or "lightning" are other examples of "meteora". By the 15 century "meteor" (in English) had come to mean any atmospheric phenomenon, including the "streaks of light" that we sometimes see at night.

Over time the word became specialised. Although we still talk of "meteorology" (which studies clouds, storms and weather in general) The word "meteor" came to be used mainly for those streaks of light in the sky at night. Though at the time we still didn't know what they were caused by.

There have been reports of "stones falling from the sky" since ancient times, but they were rare and could be regarded as fantasy or illusion; they could be dismissed as being like the reports of dragons or ghosts. But eventually, careful studies realised that "stones falling from the sky" were a real thing. And these stones could be identified and collected. We wanted a name for this type of stone.

On very rare occasions it was realised that the "stone from the sky" was associated with the "streak in the sky". And this gave rise to a name for these stones: "meteor-rock" or "meteorite".

So meteor means "a light phenomenon visible as a streak of light in the sky". A meteor is mostly ionised air molecules. The meteor is caused by the passage at hypervelocity (several km/s) of a piece of rock from space.

If any parts of that rock are found on Earth, they are called meteorites. Something that can hit you on the head is a rock, and hence a meteorite.

The rock, before it passes through the atmosphere, is very different from the rock that lands. If it is necessary to make the distinction, you can call the very space rock a "meteoroid", by analogy with "meteor-asteroid".

Some people care about the naming of things, but if you just want to insult someone, I doubt they care much about the correctness of your nomenclature.

Obligitory xkcd https://xkcd.com/1405/


I think the easiest way to remember the distinction is to do with where you see them. You will see a meteor in the sky, for example, in a meteor shower. A meteorite is an object you find on the ground (many types of rock have -ite endings) so a meteorite is the bit of a meteor that does not completely burn up and lands on Earth, (or on your head).

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    $\begingroup$ So which one would be correct? You haven't actually answered the question, just defined the terms. $\endgroup$ – zephyr Sep 19 '18 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ I've added a clarification $\endgroup$ – James K Sep 23 '18 at 6:23

As far as I know a meteor is the light phenomenon that occurs when an object enters the Earth's atmosphere.

The meteorite is the object causing the light phenomenon.

Given this the second sentence would be correct.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer is based on an incorrect assumption. As per NASA, interplanetary material "are called meteoroids as they are hurtling through space, becoming meteors for the few seconds they streak across the sky and create glowing trails". Meteor is not a light phenomenon. Also, "chunks of rock and metal from asteroids and other planetary bodies that survive their journey through the atmosphere and fall to the ground are called meteorites". So, from my understanding, meteors become meteorite only after impact. $\endgroup$ – reza.safiyat Sep 18 '18 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ A meteorite is a meteor once it has landed on the Earth surface. While it is traversing the atmosphere it is a meteor. While it is in space it is a meteoroid. $\endgroup$ – BillDOe Sep 18 '18 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ With due regard to NASA, "light phenomenom" is about right. The meteor is mostly made of ionised air molecules glowing as a result of the passage of a piece of rock travelling at hypervelocity. If "meteor" meant the rock in the atmosphere, nobody would ever see one. This answer gives the correct distiction. $\endgroup$ – James K Sep 23 '18 at 6:27

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