Curious Kids is a series for children. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


What makes a shooting star fall? – Katelyn, age 7, Adelaide.


Hi Katelyn,

Thanks for asking your fantastic question.

I’ll bet you’ve looked up at the night sky and seen lots of stars. They are beautiful aren’t they? Each star is a huge glowing ball of gas, just like the Sun. Stars look much smaller and fainter than our Sun because they are very far away.

Despite their name, shooting stars are not stars at all. They are tiny space adventurers who accidentally wander into our sky and get sucked toward us by the Earth’s gravity.

Let’s look at the journey of one of these adventurers. I’ll call her Gemma.


Once upon a time there was a tiny speck of dust — space dust — called Gemma. For many years she had spent her time wandering carefree through space and dancing around the planets and the stars.

One day, Gemma noticed a light in the distance. “What’s that?”, she wondered to herself. As she got closer, she saw a beautiful vision of a blue planet, hanging in space like a marble, covered with swirling colours of blue and white. “Wow! That’s the planet Earth,” she said to herself. “Just like I have read about in my books!” (In this story, specks of space dust read books just like you and me).

curious kids: what makes a shooting star fall?

Gemma, is that you? Ralph Arvesen/Flickr, CC BY

After spending so long floating through the darkness of space, Gemma felt a strange attraction towards this beautiful new distraction.

It wasn’t just the fascination of Earth. It felt like an invisible force was bringing her slowly closer and closer to this bright globe of light.

The pull of gravity

As Gemma flew closer, she realised that she was being pulled towards the Earth by the force of gravity. “I’ve read about this in my books,” she thought, remembering that gravity is the same force that keeps humans standing on the Earth instead of floating away. The bigger the planet, the stronger its gravity.

As she neared the planet, Gemma could now see the outline of the oceans and the clouds and the sun glinting off the sparkling water.

Suddenly, she noticed the blackness of space was turning into a beautiful blue sky. She had entered the atmosphere of Earth! She had read that the atmosphere was a thick blanket of air, more than 100 kilometres thick that wraps around the surface of our planet and allows all the animals and people to breathe.

As she encountered the air, Gemma felt the chill of deep space subside. She started to feel as warm as a summer’s day. As she jostled and bounced through the air like an aeroplane, she started to glow with an energy and light that she had not felt before. “This must be friction, making me warm — just like the friction when I rub my hands together!” she thought to herself. A lot of friction can make things glow, and Gemma started to glow brighter and brighter.

As her speed increased, Gemma felt like she was on a roller coaster. “Wheeeeeeee!!” she called out with excitement, as she rocketed towards the blue planet, shining like a beautiful, bright star.

All the children on Earth looked up and were very excited to see Gemma, the shooting star from outer space, racing down to join them on Earth. She was just as excited to see them, and to have new friends on this beautiful planet Earth.

Next time you see a shooting star, say hello to Gemma!


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

curious kids: what makes a shooting star fall?

Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.

TECH NEWS RELATED

Reports say the CIA is trying to resurrect woolly mammoths

There is a lot of skepticism around the prospect of reviving extinct animals like the woolly mammoth. Despite the skepticism, though, it appears the CIA is going all in on investing in mammoth resurrection tech. With the ongoing changes happening around the globe due to climate change, bringing extinct ...

View more: Reports say the CIA is trying to resurrect woolly mammoths

The Mediterranean Sea Rising Temperatures Trigger the Formation of CO2-emitting Crystals

According to the United Nations Climate Action, as the ocean warms from the excess heat and energy, there are unmatched cascading effects, resulting in ice melting, sea level rise, marine heat waves, and ocean acidification. More concerning climate change indicators include the oceans’ inability to absorb heat generated by rising greenhouse ...

View more: The Mediterranean Sea Rising Temperatures Trigger the Formation of CO2-emitting Crystals

Ancient chemistry may explain why living things use ATP as the universal energy currency

Molecular dynamic simulation of ADP and acetyl phosphate. Credit: Aaron Halpern, UCL (CC-BY 4.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) A simple two-carbon compound may have been a crucial player in the evolution of metabolism before the advent of cells, according to a new study published October 4 in the open access journal PLOS ...

View more: Ancient chemistry may explain why living things use ATP as the universal energy currency

New book examines gender on legal response to domestic violence

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain Over the past 40 years, considerable progress has been made in lowering rates of domestic violence (DV) in our communities. However, this progress has been uneven due to continuing misconceptions about the causes and dynamics of domestic violence. “Gender and Domestic Violence: Contemporary Legal Practice ...

View more: New book examines gender on legal response to domestic violence

Study: Black prosecutors are more punitive toward Black and Latinx defendants

Credit: CC0 Public Domain Prosecutors exert considerable power in the criminal justice system, and while defendants are predominantly Black and Latinx, prosecutors are overwhelmingly White. Despite calls for addressing racial disparities in this field, we know little about whether recruiting minority prosecutors would yield more equitable outcomes for defendants. ...

View more: Study: Black prosecutors are more punitive toward Black and Latinx defendants

Online fandom communities can facilitate state censorship, according to new research

Analytical procedure. Credit: New Media & Society (2022). DOI: 10.1177/14614448221113923 Authoritarian regimes worldwide have embraced the digital age. And they have been generally effective at limiting the online presence of perceived adversaries within their borders—from intellectual dissidents to transnational activists. However, as a new study published in the journal ...

View more: Online fandom communities can facilitate state censorship, according to new research

Nirit Weiss-Blatt

Dr. Nirit Weiss-Blatt is the author of The TECHLASH and Tech Crisis Communication. She is a former Research Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her expertise is in tech journalism. She is a contributor to Techdirt, and also has published in Newsweek ...

View more: Nirit Weiss-Blatt

How many innocent people is the plea bargain sending to prison?

There are just enough high-profile criminal trials to give the impression that heated courtroom battles over guilt or innocence are the norm. That defendants routinely exercise their constitutional right to a trial by jury, allowing the adversary system and regular citizens to decide their future. Think O. J. Simpson. ...

View more: How many innocent people is the plea bargain sending to prison?

Spectacular Planetary-Scale “Heat Wave” Discovered in Jupiter’s Atmosphere

Plastic gobbling enzymes in worm spit may help ease pollution

Holmes gets new hearing after disheveled gov’t witness shows up at her house

Both sides dig in as EPA's final decision on Pebble Mine nears

Quantum entanglement: the 'spooky' science behind physics Nobel

The Nobel winners who helped prove quantum 'spooky action'

Making tumor diagnosis kinder to kidneys

A quick look at the 2022 Nobel Prizes

Four from MIT receive NIH New Innovator Awards for 2022

Harpoon heads, sweeping tails: How predatory mosquito larvae capture prey

UK Scientists Discover Ultrarare Blood Group System

Research attributes pseudonymous astronomical treatise to Galileo Galilei

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News