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Astronomy

How many meteors hit the earth per day?

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January 02, 2010 6:50PM

Several thousands. Most of them are the size of a grain of rice or smaller. A few each day may be the size of a baseball or occasionally the size of a basketball.

Once a week or so, the Earth is hit by a rock the size of a car, and once every few months, we get hit by something the size of a house. A couple of months ago, a meteor the size of a house exploded over central Indonesia; it scared a lot of folks, but apparently did no damage.

The VAST majority of these burn up completely in the atmosphere, surviving as nothing but dust. A few do make it to the Earth, often in small (fist-sized) chunks. Very few do any damage. Only a few people are known to have been hit by a meteorite; there was a boy in Germany last year who was struck in the hand by a meteorite the size of a pea.

Every few hundred years, bigger things hit the Earth, and some do a lot of damage. In 1908, a meteor or small comet exploded high in the atmosphere near a place called Tunguska, Siberia, causing an explosion the size of a nuclear bomb. 5000 years ago, a meteor struck in the Indian Ocean causing a tsunami, which may be the source of the "Great Flood" legends in Gilgamesh and Noah's Ark. 14000 years ago, something hit northern Canada causing the "Younger Dryas" mini-ice age.

It's called a "meteoroid" when it is out in space. When it enters the Earth's atmosphere and is heated to incandescence, the bright streak of light is called a "meteor".

If the object survives the fiery passage through the atmosphere and hits the ground, it is called a "meteorite".