The difference between meteoroid, meteor and meteorite

Normally, we use anyone of these names indistinguishably. Even if they are very similar names, they all refer to different situations.

In essence, these three terms refer to the same: pieces of rock and metals that have been detached from a comet or asteroid, or that simply were in space. Then, what is the difference between meteoroid, meteor and meteorite?


To start with, we find ourselves in the space. Here is where the meteoroids are found, small particles of dust and rocks, that normally have been detached from a comet when this one approached the Sun. The meteoroids are small objects which have a size of between 100 micrometres and 50 metres. In the case they are bigger, they are named asteroids. The asteroids have a size bigger than 50 metres, but they are smaller than a dwarf planet.

The meteoroids can be very dangerous for spacecrafts, either for the ones that orbit the Earth or the ones that are found in interplanetary journeys. In fact, they move at very high speeds, and when impacting against the spacecrafts they can cause important damages.


It is named like this to the particles (the meteoroids), that enter the terrestrial atmosphere. In the case that the particle is small, when entering the Earth’s atmosphere, a combustion process is generated that disintegrates the object in the atmosphere. In consequence, this one leaves a luminous trace behind him, the named shooting stars.

When entering the atmosphere the meteor reaches a luminosity equivalent to the one of Venus (smaller than -4 of magnitude), which is very bright in the night sky, then the meteor is named bolide. Normally the bolide has a bigger size than the average size of the meteoroids, and it can produce sounds, like loud whistles or like cannonball explosions.


If the meteor is big enough, reaching to go through the atmosphere without disintegrating and impact against the Earth, the meteor converts into a meteorite. That to say, the meteorite is the object that, after entering the Earth’s atmosphere and crossing it, achieves to touch the surface.

The big difference

Therefore, the big difference between meteoroid, meteor and meteorite lies in their location. When the object is found in space it is named meteoroid, when it enters the terrestrial atmosphere meteor, and when it reaches the Earth’s surface, meteorite

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