People look up the night sky and wait to see a shooting star. A fireball darting through the dark canopy is a wonderful sight, and makes you wonder what these rapid moving things are. In astronomy they are called meteoroids, and scientists have different names for each of them depending on their brightness, length of streak of light or size of the celestial debris.

Bolides are meteors that are brighter than normal. These are debris in the Solar System that can be seen in the night sky and are more brilliant than any of the stars or planets. Also called fireballs, there is no technical and rigid definition of bolides among most astronomers. Some bolides explode, which are known as detonating fireballs.

Celestial bodies’ brightness, as seen from the Earth, is measured by apparent magnitude (no, not like the ones used in earthquakes), and bolides reach magnitude -14 or even brighter (the lower the value, the brighter). If a bolide reaches magnitude -17 or lower, it is called as a super-bolide.

As big as boulders, the chemical composition of a bolide can be ice, rock or metal. They can also be mixed ice and rock, rock and metal, and metal and ice in varying densities. Astronomers determined them by measuring the trajectory and light curve of its streak of light.

Peekskill Bolide