Resources
Q & A
Glossary
Acronym Guide
Further Reading
Outside the Site
Google Sky
WWT
Facebook
Youtube
Vimeo
Twitter
Flickr
Pinterest
Multimedia, Etc
Images/Illustrations
Animation & Video
Special Features
Chandra Podcasts
Chandra Mobile
Desktop Images
The Big Chandra Picture
High Res Prints
Presentations
Handouts
Screen Savers
Audio
Web Shortcuts
Chandra Blog
RSS Feed
Chandra Mobile
Chronicle
Email Newsletter
News & Noteworthy
Image Use Policy
Questions & Answers
Glossary of Terms
Download Guide
Get Adobe Reader
Q&A: General Astronomy and Space Science

Q:
I have a question about falling stars, I want to know if they really exist. The stars are the most distant objects. The light takes approx. 8 sec to reach Earth so when you see a star falling how can it travel the short distance and yet be visible when it is almost 10,000 cross light years away?

A:
Despite what their name suggests, "shooting stars" or "falling stars" are not stars at all, but bits of space debris called meteors. Meteors, which are usually between the size of a grain of sand and a pebble, create a brief streak of light when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds and burn up.

Meteors are produced in large quantities when the Earth's orbit takes it through an area of space filled with rocks and dust in the tail of a comet. For example, the Leonid meteor shower – so-called because the meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Leo – is due to a trail of debris left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle on its 33-year orbit of the Sun. When the Earth passes through this stream of rocks, dust grains, and gas every November, observers on Earth can be treated to a wonderful show. The passage can also be a hazard to spacecraft. For a description of how Chandra’s team dealt with the latest encounter, see http://chandra.harvard.edu/chronicle/0401/leonids.html.

Back | Index | Next