Meteoroids, meteorites, and meteors, are all variants of meteoroids.
A meteoroid is a piece of space debris that is smaller than an asteroid. Meteoroids tend to be between the size of a grain of sand, and a boulder. They are composed of either stone, or iron. The exact composition varies depending on the age of the debris and where it originated.
A meteor is a meteoroid that has passed into the earths atmosphere. If they are large enough a meteor can be recognized as a shooting star. The flare of light at the tail is the result of the majority of the stone burning due to the friction of entering earths atmosphere.
Once a meteor has entered earths atmosphere there is a good chance it will be completely incinerated. However if it makes it to the ground in one piece the debris is now called a meteorite. On average 36 to 166 meteorites hit the ground each year. Most of them are small enough that unless a person knows what they are looking at they would not recognize them as meteors.
A comet varies from meteoroids and its variation primarily on composition. Where a meteoroid is made up of rock and iron a comet is made from dust, rocks, and frozen gases. Comets can be recognized based on the color of their tail. When a meteor hits the earths atmosphere it burns creating a red or orange fire ball. It’s tail when visible, is red. The effect of the friction on the comet is different. When comets get hot they begin to release the gases frozen within. The escaping gas causes the tail of the comet to appear blue instead of red.
In order to figure out what the name for an object is there are a couple of questions to remember.
*Where is it? On the ground it’s a meteorite, in the air it’s a meteor, and beyond the earths atmosphere it’s a meteoroid.
*What color is it? If it’s passing through the atmosphere it is either a meteor or a comet. To determine which one look for a tail. If it looks like it’s on fire, it’s a meteor, if it looks like it’s being followed by blue steam, it’s a comet.
*What is it made of? There are different ways of telling what debris is composed of. The way it reacts to radio waves can give some idea of it’s composition. Remember if it seems to be dense rock and iron it’s a meteoroid, if it’s mostly frozen gases it’s a comet.
There really are few differences between the space debris, if you still are unsure about an object is there are many places that will verify if an item brought in is a meteorite or just a common garden variety rock.