meteor

Definitions

General English

Astronomy

  • The visible flash of light produced by a meteoroid entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The term is also applied to the streak of electrons produced by the same effect, which can be observed because it reflects radar signals. Meteors can be sporadic – not associated with a known shower – or can travel in packs with the same orbits, in which case they are named after the constellation in which the shower’s radiant appears. The radiant effect is a practical demonstration of perspective. The meteoroids are travelling on parallel courses so that they appear to come from the same spot, like railway tracks appearing to converge towards the horizon.

Electronics

  • A momentary and bright streak or trail of light which appears in the sky when a meteoroid penetrates, and is subsequently burned, by the atmosphere.

Origin & History of “meteor”

Greek metéōron meant literally ‘something high up’, and was used to denote ‘phenomena in the sky or heavens’. It was a compound noun formed from the intensive prefix metá- and *eōr-, a variant form of the base of the verb aeírein ‘raise’. when English first took it over, via medieval Latin meteōrum, it was still in the sense ‘phenomenon of the atmosphere or weather’ (‘hoar frosts … and such like cold meteors’, Abraham Fleming, Panoplie of Epistles 1576), an application which survives, of course, in the derivative meteorology (17th c.). The earliest evidence of the specific use of meteor for a ‘shooting star’ comes from the end of the 16th century. The derivative meteorite, for a meteor that hits the ground, was coined in the early 19th century.
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