Asteroids are small, mostly rocky, irregular-shaped bodies. They are found orbiting the Sun in a band filling the 550-million-kilometre gap between Mars and Jupiter. The largest, Ceres, measures just under 1000 kilometres across, but only a handful have diameters greater than 100 kilometres. About 4000 have been recorded, but there are many thousands more too small to be identified.
Astronomers believe that, during the formation of the Solar System, Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull caused nearby planetesimals to smash into one another rather than build up into another planet. This left the belt of fragments we call the asteroids.
The asteroids have continued to collide with one another since their formation, producing smaller fragments called meteoroids. These have occasionally crashed on to Earth’s surface (when they are known as meteorites). It is feared that one day a large meteorite may devastate Earth, causing climatic change sufficient to wipe out many life-forms.
Most asteroids are rocky, indicating they come from the outer layers of a former minor planet. But some are metallic – they come from the core of such a planet.
A close-up view of the irregular shaped objects that make up the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. From study of asteroid fragments that have fallen to Earth, scientists have dated the age of the Solar System to 4.6 million years ago.
Picture Credit : Google