late 15c., "any atmospheric phenomenon," from Old French meteore (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin meteorum (nominative meteora), from Greek ta meteōra "the celestial phenomena, things in heaven above," plural of meteōron, literally "thing high up," noun use of neuter of meteōros (adj.) "high up, raised from the ground, hanging," from meta "by means of" (see meta-) + -aoros "lifted, lifted up, suspended, hovering in air," related to aeirein "to raise" (from PIE root *wer- (1) "to raise, lift, hold suspended").
Specific sense of "fireball in the sky, shooting star" is attested from 1590s. Atmospheric phenomena were formerly classified as aerial meteors (wind), aqueous meteors (rain, snow, hail), luminous meteors (aurora, rainbows), and igneous meteors (lightning, shooting stars). All the other senses have fallen away. When still in space beyond the atmosphere it is a meteoroid; when fallen to earth it is a meteorite. A periodically recurring fall of them (usually associated with a comet) is a meteor shower (by 1853).
updated on January 17, 2019