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Have you ever seen a shooting star? A bright light

streaks across the sky. It looks like a star falling to
Earth. It’s actually a meteor.

A shooting star is a piece of rock or metal. There are
billions of chunks of rock and metal scattered throughout
the solar system. Most are as small as grains of sand, but
the largest are many miles across. A piece of rock and
metal floating through space is called an asteroid.

Sometimes asteroids come close to Earth. They fall
through Earth’s atmosphere, the air around the planet.
Earth’s atmosphere “rubs” against the rock. The rubbing
makes the rock so hot that it glows. The glowing rock is
called a meteor.

Most meteors burn up before they hit the ground. All
that’s left of them is specks of dust. Others are so big that
they make it through the atmosphere and crash into
Earth. A meteor that hits the ground is called a meteorite.

Meteorites can make big holes in the ground called

craters. There are not many meteorite craters on Earth.
Other planets, such as Mercury and Mars, have many
more craters. Those planets don’t have thick atmospheres,
so most meteors that fall toward them make it all the way
to the ground. There are also lots of meteorite craters on
our Moon and on the moons of other planets.
A space rock can be called by three different names,
depending on where it is. The rock is an asteroid while
drifting in space, a meteor when you see it burning
through Earth’s atmosphere, and a meteorite after hitting
the ground.
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