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The Asteroids

What are Asteroids? 

Asteroids are little bits of rocks, stone and ice that orbit around the Sun in a region known as the Asteroid Belt. Some asteroids are hundreds of kilometres in diameter, while others may be as tiny as little pebbles or specks of dust. 

Why is it called the Asteroid Belt? 

The Asteroid Belt is where almost all of the Asteroids are found. Located in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, millions and millions of asteroids orbit around the Sun in a large, 140 million miles wide, doughnut-shaped ring. Just like a rocky belt around the middle of our solar system. 

Source: NASA 

What do Asteroids look like? 

No two asteroids look the same, as they’re all different shapes and sizes. Some are tiny, no bigger than a small rock or pebble, while around 150 are so big they even have their own moon. While a few are nearly round, most are oddly shaped and look like lumpy potatoes. One called ‘216 Kleopatra’ even looks like a dog’s bone.

Source: Stephen Ostro et al. (JPL) 

What’s the difference between an Asteroid and a meteorite? 

When asteroids collide, little pieces can break off and fly away. If they fly off in a direction that takes them outside the orbit of the Asteroid Belt, they are then called a meteorite. After travelling for millions or billions of kilometres, meteorites may then run into other objects in the solar system, like planets or moons. The surface of our Moon is covered in impact craters from meteorites. But most meteorites that come close to Earth will burn up in our atmosphere, which we call ‘shooting stars’. 

Has anyone ever been to the Asteroid Belt? 

Around 13 spacecraft have travelled safely through the Asteroid Belt, with three of these missions targeted specifically at studying what Asteroids are made of and what they get up to. A Japanese spacecraft called ‘Hayabusa’ even landed on an asteroid in 2005 to collect samples of the surface rocks, before returning safely to Earth in 2010. 

For more information see NASA – Asteroid for lots more information for kids about Asteroids. 

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