Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, July is the beginning of the “dog days” of summer, the hottest period of the year. But you know what’s cool on a hot day? Knowledge. Grab a tall glass of lemonade, settle down in a hammock under a shady tree, and let Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings set you straight on some shamefully persistent misinformation about hot stuff.
The Debunker: Are Meteorites White-Hot When They Land?
First of all, let’s settle this “shooting stars” thing once and for all. Feel free to make a wish on a streak of light in the night sky, but what you’re seeing is, of course, not a star. It’s a meteoroid—a small chunk of a comet or an asteroid. When the meteoroid enters the atmosphere, friction produces a burst of light and heat, which we call a meteor. If the whole thing doesn’t burn up during its descent, a fragment of rock may fall to Earth, at which point it becomes a meteorite. Got it? The order is asteroid -> meteoroid -> meteor -> meteorite.