The majority of asteroids that scientists have formally identified reside between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Scientists call this wide swath of space the asteroid belt, and though it contains millions of objects, the combined size of all of the asteroids in the belt is smaller than the Earth’s moon.Know More
Scientists estimate that about 200 asteroids in the belt exceed 60 miles in diameter. By contrast, 750,000 asteroids of about three-fifths of a mile in diameter are thought to reside among the larger ones. One of the largest objects in the asteroid belt is classified as a dwarf planet. Named Ceres, this large asteroid is thought to represent about one-third of the total mass of the asteroid belt.
Many asteroids have moons that orbit them, although none are large enough to contain an atmosphere. As far as scientists can tell, asteroids are not capable of supporting life. Occasionally, the gravity of a large planet perturbs the orbit of an asteroid. This can cause an asteroid to crash into a planet or moon. Approximately 65 million years ago, an asteroid hit the earth with enough force to kill most of the life on the planet. Scientists scan the skies for such large meteors, hoping to spot them before they impact Earth.Learn more in Comets & Asteroids
Asteroids are formed from the leftovers of the formation of our solar system from about 4.6 billion years ago. Early on, the birth of Jupiter prevented any planetary bodies from forming in the gap between Mars and Jupiter, causing the small objects that were there to collide with each other and fragment into the asteroids seen today.Full Answer >
Comets and asteroids are both made up of rock, dust and debris. They also both travel around space in an orbit.Full Answer >
Mankind has dreamed of mining asteroids ever since the 19th century sci-fi serial "Edison's Conquest of Mars," but it has only come within scientific reach very recently. Asteroids are rich in metals found only in scarce quantities on Earth. If scientists figure out a way to tow an asteroid into the orbit of the moon, they can effectively harvest millions of dollars worth of minerals from even relatively small asteroids.Full Answer >
The primary reason that planetary scientists study asteroids, comets and meteoroids is because it helps them to understand the early formation of the solar system. Additionally, it is important to understand what happens when asteroids or meteoroids collide with the Earth or other planets, as such events have been important factors in the history of the planet.Full Answer >