Peter Ballantyne, of Ardgowan School, asks :-

When you look up at night which is going the fastest, a meteorite or a satellite?

Pam Kilmartin, an Observer-Technician at the University of Canterbury's Mount John Observatory, responded.

In almost every case, the meteor will be faster than a satellite.

A meteor, or shooting star, is a tiny piece of comet debris that is moving in orbit around the sun, and collides with the atmosphere of the earth. It may be moving at 10-30 km per second. The atmosphere heats it up by friction and the air around it also heats up and glows. This happens very quickly about 100 km up, and what we see usually lasts only a second or two. Some very bright meteors may leave a glowing trail for a second.

Sometimes a piece of rock or iron from an asteroid collides with the earth and it may survive its journey through the atmosphere to reach the ground as a meteorite. This will be an extremely bright meteor called a fireball, perhaps visible in the daytime. From 100 to 1000 tonness of material may be added to the earth each day, not much considering how big the earth is.

A satellite, though, is moving in orbit around the earth and most of those we can see in the night sky will be visible for many seconds or some minutes. They are reflecting sunlight and we see them as points of light moving quite steadily across the starry background sky, and often fading quickly as they move into the earth's shadow. A few rotate and this may cause them to flash as they move across the sky.