Difference between Meteoroids Meteors Meteorites and Comets

Heavenly bodies such as meteoroids, meteors, meteorites and comets are often grouped and classified together since they basically refer to a chunk of either rock or ice that are too small to be considered as a planet. Meteoroids, meteors, meteorites and comets are all modes of rocks, ice or any other organic/carbon-based compounds. However, there is a fine line that separates one from another.

Hence, the following is a detailed explanation of the definition of each of the following heavenly bodies; the meteoroids, meteors, meteorites and comets.

What is a Meteoroid?

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), a Paris-based astronomical association defines a meteoroid as “a solid object moving in interplanetary space, of a size considerably smaller than an asteroid and considerably larger than an atom.” Similarly, a meteoroid usually orbits the sun and is a small particle from an asteroid. Thus, it could be said that meteoroids and asteroids have similar compositions.

Smaller forms of meteoroids are often called micrometeoroids or sometimes interplanetary dust.

What is a Meteor?

Once a meteoroid enters the earth’s atmosphere, it starts to burn and creates a visible path which we normally refer to as a “shooting star.” More so, these shooting stars are basically meteors. A meteor becomes visible upon its entry to the mesosphere, from then it catches speed and creating a visible pathway.

Each day, millions of meteoroids, most of which are the size of a sand, enter the earth’s atmosphere, creating millions of pathways known as meteors. 

What is a Meteorite?

A meteorite is the part of a meteoroid that survives burning within the atmosphere and the impact brought by its landing upon the earth’s crust. Large meteorites often create impact craters, the moment it lands on the earth’s crust. However, most meteorites are small and ranges from the size of a pebble to the size of a basketball.

Meteorites are further classified into three categories; the stony meteorites, the iron meteorites and the stony-iron meteorites.

What is a Comet?

Comets are heavenly bodies in space composed mainly of rocks, ice or metals. Comets are among the most active bodies in the Solar system. A comet can be distinguished from a meteoroid when it moves close enough to the sun, forming a visible tail caused by the sun’s illumination.

Comets have a very diverse set of orbital periods that can take up to thousands of years to be completed. Arguably the most famous comet is the short-term comet, the Halley’s Comet which becomes visible every 75/76 earth years.