Shooting Star Day
annually on August 24th
Heads raise upwards and eyes scan the sky, keeping watch for shooting stars, for it is Shooting Star Day. Shooting or falling stars, which glow brightly as they fall through the Earth's atmosphere, are scientifically known as meteors. They start out as meteoroids, small pieces of space dust made of rock or metal, which may be as small as a particle or as large as a rock, and which have broken off from an asteroid or planet. Meteoroids come up against air particles, which creates friction. They then heat up and burn to the point of vaporization. The glow they produce is the hot air that remains as they burn.
Shooting stars may appear to be a momentary bright white light, but they actually change colors as they burn, the colors indicating the gases the rocks are made up of. Silicate burns red, sodium is orange and yellow, copper is blue or green, potassium is purple, and iron is yellow. If a shooting star makes it through the Earth's atmosphere intact or without completely burning up and reaches the ground, it is known as a meteorite. Meteorites make craters many times their size.
Shooting stars are more often seen at night than during the day. They can be spotted when they are at a distance of somewhere between 34 and 70 miles above the Earth, and they disintegrate when they are 31 to 51 miles from it. On average, shooting stars range in speed from 25,000 to 160,000 miles per hour and get as hot as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
When many shooting stars are seen at once, they are known as a meteor shower. This happens when Earth passes through a group of meteoroids while orbiting. The shooting stars travel at high speeds and in parallel trajectories and appear to radiate from a single point. Meteor showers are periodic: some happen at the same time every year, some happen every few years, and some happen only once every so many decades. They are named after the constellation it appears they are coming from. Some of the most prominent are the Perseid meteor shower, named after the constellation Perseus, and the Leonid meteor shower, named after the constellation Leo. About 30 meteor showers take place each year.
The phrase "wish upon a star" is believed to have originated in Greece in the second century. The writings of Ptolemy may have influenced people to believe that stars fell when the gods looked down from the heavens. If the gods were looking down, it meant it was the perfect time to make a wish, because maybe they'd hear it. Similarly, meteorites that made it to the ground were viewed by some during ancient times as either gifts from angels or displays of anger from the gods.
How to Observe Shooting Star Day
- Look for shooting stars. The best time to do so is at night. Make a wish each time you see one!
- Check the American Meteor Society website for the week's Meteor Activity Outlook.
- Join the American Meteor Society.
- Visit one of the best places to see a meteor shower.
- Watch Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds.
- Read a book about shooting stars.
- Learn about major meteor showers.