Different meteor types hit the Earth in different ways, creating flashes across the night sky or raining gently to the ground.
The compositions of some meteors allow them to survive and reach the ground as grains of dust.
Other meteors travel faster as they striike Earth's atmosphere and burn up as shooting stars.
Scientists have unravelled the mystery of why some meteors flash across the night sky burning up as shooting stars, while others survive raining gently down to the ground.
The discovery by David Nesvorny from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. and colleagues was made during a study of an astronomcical feature known as the Zodiacal Cloud.
The Zodiacal Cloud is a diffuse glow of scattered sunlight in the night sky. Models predict that micro-meteoroids enter the Earth's atmosphere at relatively low speeds, gently raining down onto the ground. But meteor radars consistently see the sky filled with rapidly speeding meteors flying too fast to survive.
Nesvorny and colleagues found the inconsistency was caused by some meteor radars not being able to see the slower, smaller meteors, instead only detecting the bigger faster ones which people see as shooting stars.
Reporting in the Astrophysical Journal and on the pre-press website ArXiv.org, Nesvorny and colleagues found that 90 percent of the dust in the Zodiacal Cloud comes from Jupiter family comets such as 2P/Encke, whose orbits are influenced by the giant gas planet.
These appear to have compositions which cause them to slow down rapidly once they enter the Earth's atmosphere, allowing them to survive and reach the ground often as micrometeorites no bigger than grains of dust.
The remaining 10 percent of material in the Zodiacal Cloud comes from Oort Cloud comets, Halley-type comets and asteroid collisions.
They are usually associated with cometary debris trails seen as meteor showers, and because they're traveling faster when they hit the Earth's atmosphere, they're more likely to burn up as shooting stars.
Meteoroids and their tiny counter parts micro-meteoroids often fly through space at speeds of 40,000 kilometers per hour (25,000 miles per hour). Meteors that enter the Earth's atmosphere and reach the ground are called meteorites.
Astronomer Dr Fred Watson from the Australian Astronomical Observatory says the study provides a new insight into the amount of dust and debris falling into the Earth's atmosphere every year.
"Their figure of 15,000 tons a year is considerably more than previously thought," said Watson. "When you think about it, that's an extraordinary amount of stuff falling down to the Earth's surface. It's a train's worth of stuff."
The study also provides an important contribution to our understanding of the Earth's environment, said Watson.
"It's an area of study that hasn't been examined over the past couple of decades, and we're now starting to see real scientific measurements being brought to the process rather than just the guesstimates," he said. "We now have a much better picture of what's happening."