Everyday billions of space rocks crash into the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate before they reach the ground. This produces two main effects—one we can see with our eyes, the other we cannot.
The effect which we can see—provided the meteor is large enough—is the actual breaking up of the rock as it slams against the air, heats the air molecules and the heat melts the rock. As it burns and falls through the atmosphere, the meteor leaves a trail of glowing particles in its wake which we call the shooting star. Although this event appears to happen only a few thousand feet up in the sky, most meteors break up at altitudes between 80 to 100 kilometers.
A meteor. Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu/Flickr