Why Are There Shooting Stars?

iStock / Chloe Effron
iStock / Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Have you ever seen a flash of bright light streaking through the night sky? People around the world have different ways of explaining these so-called shooting stars. But shooting stars aren’t really stars at all!

Shooting stars are really meteors (MEE-tee-ors)—little chunks of rock and dust moving through space. As the Earth orbits (or circles) the Sun, it sometimes comes close to these meteors. Meteors passing at high speeds through the layer of gases surrounding Earth, called the atmosphere (AT-muss-feer), causes friction (FRICK-shun). Friction is when one thing rubs against the other. And friction makes meteors glow.

Friction causes heat. Rocks and dust get super hot as they fly super fast through the Earth's atmosphere. The heat makes them glow until they burn out. We call that glowing streak in the sky a shooting star. (Now you know those aren’t stars at all!) Meteors burn out during the day too, but those bright flashes show up very clearly in the dark. On a normal night, you might see a meteor about every 10 to 15 minutes if you pay close attention. During a meteor shower like the Perseid, which comes every summer, you might be able to see about 100 meteors an hour! 

Want to find out more? Take this Discovery Kids quiz to learn the difference between meteors, comets, and asteroids.


The New Apple Watch SE Is Now Available on Amazon

Apple/Amazon
Apple/Amazon

Apple products are notorious for their high price tags. From AirPods to iPads to MacBooks, it can be difficult to find the perfect piece of tech on sale when you are ready to buy. Luckily, for those who have had their eye on a new Apple Watch, the Apple Watch SE is designed with all the features users want but at a lower starting price of $279— and they're available on Amazon right now.

The SE exists as a more affordable option when compared to Apple's new Series 6 line of watches. This less expensive version has many of the same functions of its pricier brethren, except for certain features like the blood oxygen sensor and electrical heart sensor. To make up for the truncated bells and whistles, the SE comes in at least $120 cheaper than the Series 6, which starts at $400 and goes up to $800. The SE comes with technical improvements on previous models as well, such as the fall detection, a faster processor, a larger screen, water resistance, and more.

Now available in 40mm ($279) and 44mm ($309), both SE models offer a variety of colors to choose from, such as sliver, space gray, and pink. If you want cellular connection, you’ll have to pay a bit more for the 40mm ($329) and the 44mm ($359).

For more, head to Amazon to see the full list of offerings from Apple.

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A Rare Blue Moon Will Light Up the Night Sky This Halloween

Halloween will be even spookier this year.
Halloween will be even spookier this year.
VladGans/iStock via Getty Images

Wolves, werewolves, and people dressed as werewolves will have a bona fide full moon to howl at this Halloween. And it’s not just any full moon—it’s a blue moon.

What Is a Blue Moon?

Since a complete lunar cycle is 29.5 days long, this usually works out to one full moon per calendar month. If a full moon occurs on the first or second day of the month, however, there could technically be another one within the same month. When that happens—about once every 2.5 to 3 years, according to the Farmers’ Almanac—the second full moon is called a “blue moon.”

But up until the mid-20th century, blue moons had a different definition. The Maine Farmers’ Almanac and similar publications used to count full moons by season, so a year with 13 full moons meant that one season would have four (not three) full moons. To avoid messing with full moon nicknames that were tied to certain times of year (e.g. the “moon before Yule”), the third full moon in a season of four was named a “blue moon.”

In a 1943 column for Sky & Telescope, Laurence J. Lafleur mentioned that blue moons occur when a year has 13 full moons, but he didn’t go into detail about how the Maine Farmers’ Almanac determined which moon was, in fact, the blue one. Three years later, another Sky & Telescope author, James Hugh Pruett, wrote an article in which he incorrectly assumed that the blue moon was the second full moon in a month with two. The magazine repeated Pruett’s rule in future stories, and it eventually caught on with the general public.

Why Is It Called a “Blue Moon”?

Just like a pink moon isn’t pink and a worm moon isn’t crawling with worms, a blue moon isn’t actually blue. One theory holds that the name is derived from the Old English word belewe, or “to betray”—perhaps since blue moons betray the normal schedule of full moons. This lunar rarity is also said to be the origin of the phrase once in a blue moon.

The moon actually has appeared blue in the past. After a massive volcanic eruption, the ash in the sky can sometimes block red light particles, giving the moon a bluish tint. According to NASA, this happened after Indonesia’s Krakatoa erupted in 1883, and again when Mexico’s El Chichón spewed its molten guts a century later.

When Can I See October’s Blue Moon?

October's first full moon, the harvest moon, is coming on Thursday, October 1. The second one, the blue moon, will peak on Saturday, October 31, at 10:49 a.m. EST, so you’ll be able to see it before the sun rises or after it sets. Since a full moon on Halloween only happens once every 19 years or so, cross your fingers for clear skies that night.