Look fast Meteors—AKA shooting stars—burn different colors depending on the chemicals they contain. A meteor made of mostly calcium will look purple, while one made of magnesium looks green or teal (bluish green). –accuweather.com
You read it first in this week’s The Factory in Guide magazine.
Have you ever been lucky enough to see a shooting star? How about a meteor? Trick question! They’re the same thing, but you weren’t fooled were you?! While it may feel like a one-in-a-million chance, shooting stars are actually quite a common occurrence. According to a report done by the University of Oregon, roughly 25 million–that’s right! Million!!!–meteors enter our planet’s atmosphere every day. That’s approximately 289 shooting stars every second! Let’s take a few minutes to learn about shooting stars and, just maybe, we’ll learn how to spot them better, too.
So what exactly are shooting stars–or rather, meteors? Well, a meteor is generally a small piece of space debris, usually from a comet or asteroid, that collides with Earth’s atmosphere and burns up. But what causes it to burn? Friction is when one thing rubs against another and encounters resistance. When friction occurs, it can generate a lot of heat. That’s why your hands warm up when you rub them together super fast. Meteors are moving so fast that they encounter air resistance. They are experiencing friction with the air in the atmosphere. Because they are moving so incredibly fast–approximately 44 miles a second!–they generate an extreme amount of heat that incinerates them, resulting in total destruction.
Sometimes, however, a bigger meteoroid–a meteor that is still up in space–will get caught in the Earth’s gravitational pull. The bigger the meteor is, the more likely it is to survive the trip through the atmosphere and reach Earth’s surface. When this happens, the meteor is then called a meteorite.
So maybe you have seen a meteor, but were you able to tell what color it was? That’s right! Shooting stars can be different colors depending on their elemental makeup. The speed at which they are traveling can also have an effect on their apparent color. Atmospheric atoms–nitrogen and oxygen–when moving quickly around the surface of a meteor will ignite and appear red. The meteor itself may contain different metals like iron, calcium, sodium, and magnesium, with iron being the most common. An iron meteor will give off yellow light. One of calcium will appear purple. A meteor of sodium will look yellowish-orange. And finally, a meteor composed of magnesium will burn a bluish-green color. These aren’t the only metals found within a meteor, but they are the most common and highest concentration by percentage.
Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for: How to raise your chances of seeing a shooting star. First, wait till it gets dark! The darker the sky is, the easier it will be to see a shooting star, or any star for that matter (minus the sun). It would also help for the clouds to be absent and the moon to be in its new moon phase (when it appears to be missing). Did you know that it is very likely that you live somewhere with light pollution? About 80% of the world’s population lives in areas with skyglow. Cities and towns give off a lot of artificial light that can obscure the brilliant night sky from view, so you will be able to see a lot more if you go somewhere far away from civilization. Check out this link to see the best “Dark Sky” locations.
Another way of raising your chances is to wait for a scheduled meteor shower. There are quite a few different meteor showers that happen every year. The Perseids meteor shower is one of the most popular as it takes place during the whole month of August with its peak occurring August 12-13th. The Geminids is another popular shower with its peak occurring December 13-14th which is in just a few days if you’re reading this post just shortly after its launch date. The Geminids are said to be quite bright, and with the moon being only 1% full on the date this year (2023), I’d highly recommend getting out to enjoy the stars. Remember to look for a place with little cloud cover and light pollution. Also, if it happens to be winter wherever you are during these dates, remember that snow reflects light so it’s even more important to get away from city lights! Happy star gazing!
This reminds me of “The Night the Stars Fell” on November 12-13, 1833. The Leonids shower takes place every year with its peak mid November. That particular year, however, was a night not many would soon forget. With thousands of stars “falling” every hour, many believed that it was the day of the Lord’s judgment. But we know better. In fact, Jesus foretold this occurrence in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, quoting from the book of Isaiah, “…All their host shall fall down…” Isaiah 34:4. This was one of the signs Jesus gave that pointed to the soon coming of His return. To read more, check out Matthew 24. NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version, Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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