What is a Meteoroid?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A meteoroid is a body in space which is larger than a grain of dust, but smaller than an asteroid, with meteoroids potentially being roughly boulder-sized. Some meteoroids are in orbit around various celestial bodies, and others move through space until they fall into orbit or collide with an object, which can range from a planet to a space craft. If a meteoroid makes it through the Earth's atmosphere and manages to hit the ground, it is known as a meteorite.

Meteoroids are sometimes called shooting stars.
Meteoroids are sometimes called shooting stars.

When a meteoroid hits the atmosphere, it generates a bright streak of light caused by vaporizing solids and gases. This streak of light can actually be very valuable to physicists, because spectral analysis of the light provides information about the composition of the meteoroid. The contents of the meteoroid usually vaporize as it moves through the atmosphere, but sometimes part of it survives to hit the Earth, often creating a small impact crater.

A sharp stargazer will be able to spot large numbers of meteoroids, especially during a meteor shower.
A sharp stargazer will be able to spot large numbers of meteoroids, especially during a meteor shower.

Meteoroids are sometimes called falling or shooting stars, since they do look rather like stars which are falling out of the heavens. This is not technically accurate; if a star fell onto Earth, of course, if such a thing were possible, Earth would not survive the collision. This point of fact aside, many people enjoy gazing at the stars and looking for phenomena like meteoroids and passing comets at night when the sky is clear. A sharp-eyed stargazer can spot large numbers, especially during meteor showers, when hundreds may hit the Earth's atmosphere within a few hours.

Aside from being a topic of interest for people who like looking at the starts, meteoroids are also valuable for scientists. Spectral analysis is conducted to learn more about where these pieces of material originated from, and when a meteorite can be recovered, additional studies can be conducted to learn more about it. In some cases, a meteoroid is like a free rock sample from another planet, moon, or other celestial body and it can provide a wealth of information.

A particularly notable meteorite may be retained for display in a museum. Many wind up with scientific institutions which study them and maintain collections of meteorites for the purpose of creating a library of material for research and comparison. Some people have also kept meteorites they have encountered, although laypeople sometimes confuse tektites with meteorites; tektites are actually from Earth, but they melt during a collision and later solidify, sometimes fooling people into thinking they come from space since they are found near impact craters and they look unusual.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I thought I would add a few more interesting facts about meteoroids. One cool fact is the speed at which they travel. Some of them enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a rate of 130,000 miles per hour.

Also, we can actually throw a meteoroid off course by exploding a nuclear device somewhere near it. The radiation pulse caused from the explosion pushed the meteoroid off of its course. This process is called an x-ray slap.

Meteoroids also contain the oldest known rocks in our whole solar system. They contain pre-solar grains, which are actually minerals that formed around other stars billions of years before our solar system was born.


I had to do a science project on meteoroids and I found a lot of interesting information. One of the things that I found interesting was that they range in size from dust up to around 10 metres in diameter.

Also, a very small percentage of meteoroids fly towards the Earth’s atmosphere and then right back out. Those are known as Earth grazing fireballs. The meteoroids that survive falling through the Earth’s atmosphere and actually collide with Earth are the ones that we know as meteorites.


some meteoroids are seeds of planets or any cosmic objects produced by old cosmic objects. they contain organic amino acid and proteins -- the main properties of any seeds.

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