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A-Z of thought: Meteors

David Wilkinson

 

Meteors or shooting stars are a common sight in the night sky, and a number per hour can be seen on a clear night away from street lighting. While their origin is not fully understood, they have been an important source of information about the Solar System and have been interpreted as signs of cataclysmic end times events and even the star of Bethlehem.

Meteors are the bright trails produced as small pieces of material fall through the Earth's atmosphere and are heated to incandescence by the friction of the air. The pieces of rock or debris that travel through space that produce meteors are called meteoroids. Pieces that are large enough to not vaporize completely and reach the ground are called meteorites.

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Each day between 1,000 to 10,000 tons of this material falls on the earth. Most of it is so small that atmospheric friction does not burn it up, and it simply drops to the ground. Some meteorites however can be very large, such as the 60-ton Hoba meteorite in southwest Africa.  Ann Hodges, who was bruised by a meteorite which came through her roof in Alabama in 1954, remains the only known human victim of a meteorite.  

Meteorites are scientifically important as they are our main source of extraterrestrial material. More than 10,000 have been collected in Antarctica, a small number of which seem to have come to the earth after being ejected from the surface of Mars by impacts on its surface. This is shown by the gases trapped in the meteorites which match the the Viking spacecraft's measurements of the Martian atmosphere. One of these meteorites, ALH84001 became the focus of attention in August 1996, when it was claimed that it contained fossil bacteria, although most scientists took the view that the claim had mistaken geologic structures for biological evidence.

The diversity of composition of meteorites indicates a diversity of origins from asteroids and comets, as well as from planetary surfaces such as Mars.  Indeed the breakup of asteroids and comets may lead to the meteor showers, of which the most famous, the Perseids, peak around 12 August every year.  

While some Christian groups have associated meteors and meteor showers with predictions of the end times, and others have identified them as messengers of the gods, the Bible itself is very quiet on this subject. It has been claimed by the astronomer and television presenter Sir Patrick Moore that the star of Bethlehem was two brilliant meteors rising in the east and crossing the sky in a westward direction, leaving a trail visible for several hours. However, this suggestion has not gained widespread acceptance

 

 

Meteors or shooting stars are a common sight in the night sky, and a number per hour can be seen on a clear night away from street lighting. While their origin is not fully understood, they have been an important source of information about the Solar System and have been interpreted as signs of cataclysmic end times events and even the star of Bethlehem.
Meteors are the bright trails produced as small pieces of material fall through the Earth's atmosphere and are heated to incandescence by the friction of the air. The pieces of rock or debris that travel through space that produce meteors are called meteoroids. Pieces that are large enough to not vaporize completely and reach the ground are called meteorites.
Each day between 1,000 to 10,000 tons of this material falls on the earth. Most of it is so small that atmospheric friction does not burn it up, and it simply drops to the ground. Some meteorites however can be very large, such as the 60-ton Hoba meteorite in southwest Africa.  Ann Hodges, who was bruised by a meteorite which came through her roof in Alabama in 1954, remains the only known human victim of a meteorite.  
Meteorites are scientifically important as they are our main source of extraterrestrial material. More than 10,000 have been collected in Antarctica, a small number of which seem to have come to the earth after being ejected from the surface of Mars by impacts on its surface. This is shown by the gases trapped in the meteorites which match the the Viking spacecraft's measurements of the Martian atmosphere. One of these meteorites, ALH84001 became the focus of attention in August 1996, when it was claimed that it contained fossil bacteria, although most scientists took the view that the claim had mistaken geologic structures for biological evidence.
The diversity of composition of meteorites indicates a diversity of origins from asteroids and comets, as well as from planetary surfaces such as Mars.  Indeed the breakup of asteroids and comets may lead to the meteor showers, of which the most famous, the Perseids, peak around 12 August every year.  
While some Christian groups have associated meteors and meteor showers with predictions of the end times, and others have identified them as messengers of the gods, the Bible itself is very quiet on this subject. It has been claimed by the astronomer and television presenter Sir Patrick Moore that the star of Bethlehem was two brilliant meteors rising in the east and crossing the sky in a westward direction, leaving a trail visible for several hours. However, this suggestion has not gained widespread acceptance