What is the difference between a meteor, a meteoroid, a meteorite, an asteroid and a comet?

Most of us probably have seen meteors or shooting stars. A meteor is the flash of light that we see in the night sky when a small chunk of interplanetary debris burns up as it passes through our atmosphere. "Meteor" refers to the flash of light caused by the debris, not the debris itself.

The debris is called a meteoroid. A meteoroid is a piece of interplanetary matter that is smaller than a kilometer and frequently only millimeters in size. Most meteoroids that enter the Earth's atmosphere are so small that they vaporize completely and never reach the planet's surface.

If any part of a meteoroid survives the fall through the atmosphere and lands on Earth, it is called a meteorite. Although the vast majority of meteorites are very small, their size can range from about a fraction of a gram (the size of a pebble) to 100 kilograms (220 lbs) or more (the size of a huge, life-destroying boulder).

Asteroids are generally larger chunks of rock that come from the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Comets are asteroid-like objects covered with ice, methane, ammonia, and other compounds that develop a fuzzy, cloud-like shell called a coma and sometimes a visible tail whenever they orbit close to the Sun.

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