This photo shows the streak of a meteor that appears to the right of Comet C2001 Q4 NEAT.
Meteors are bits of dust that burn up when they strike our atmosphere at high speeds. Traveling at speeds of many miles a second, the friction in the atmosphere results in a flash of light that we see when one of these objects streaks across the night sky. Space debris producing the brief streaks of light typical of most meteors are about the size of a grain of sand. Most meteors are believed to be chips knocked off of minor planets or asteroids, and dust from comets. Some comets leave behind dust particles that produce annual meteor showers at the point in Earth's orbit near the path the comet took when it passed through the inner solar system. In some cases, comets that passed through a hundred years ago have left behind sufficient dust to result in meteor showers today. This photo shows a comet passing through the inner solar system leaving behind dust particles that may, in the future, strike our atmosphere as meteors, while a dust grain perhaps from a previous comet puts on a display now.
Our planet is not the only recipient of meteroite impacts in our solar system. On rare occasions, meteorites have been found on Earth that appear to be material blasted off of the Moon or Mars by huge meteorite impacts. The Moon, Mercury and Mars are covered with impact craters from meteorite impacts. In 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. At least one confirmed observation has been made of a meteorite hitting the Moon. In addition, one of the Mars Exploration Rovers (i.e., Opportunity) discovered an iron meteorite on Mars in January 2005.
Occasionally, a meteor hits our atmosphere that is large enough to survive its firery plunge and hit the Earth. There is only one record of a meteorite striking a human, and that incident occurred in Alabama in 1954. A meteorite injured a woman when it crashed through her roof, bounced off of a couple of objects in her room, and finally hit her. I remember seeing that meteorite, and a photograph of the hole in her roof, on display in a museum in Alabama when I was a young boy.
This photograph was taken using a Mamiya 645AF camera that was piggyback on a telescope mount. The photograph was taken at a dark sky site in Southeastern Arizona.
May 22, 2004
Photo by Sid Leach
Sunglow Ranch, Arizona
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