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Space is full of material left over from the creation of the Solar System, and the Earth is continually encountering this debris, which enters our atmosphere at very high velocities- many kilometers per second. At such speeds, the air in front of a meteoroid is rapidly compressed, producing enough heat to ablate its surface and usually burn it up completely while still many kilometers high. As it burns, it generates a bright streak across the sky- a meteor, or shooting star. From a location with dark skies, you will normally see several meteors per hour as sand-sized particles burn up.
Occasionally, larger particles encounter the Earth's atmosphere, producing much more spectacular light shows. These very bright meteors are called fireballs (the International Astronomical Union defines a fireball as a meteor brighter than magnitude -4, about the same as Venus.) Another term that is sometimes used is bolide, especially for fireballs that explode. However, this term is not formally defined, and should not be used when referring to fireballs. Adding to possible confusion, scientists who study impact structures use the term bolide for a meteoroid that forms a crater.