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Astronomy for Kids

Asteroids

Asteroid Eros
The asteroid Eros.
Photo by the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft.
Source: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL
What is an asteroid?

An asteroid is a chunk of rock and metal in outer space that is in orbit around the Sun. Asteroids vary in size from just a few feet across to hundreds of miles in diameter.

Most asteroids are not round, but are lumpy and shaped like a potato. As they orbit the Sun, they tumble and spin.

Types of Asteroids

There are three main types of asteroids based on what type of elements make up the asteroid. The main types include carbon, stony, and metallic. Asteroid Belt

The majority of asteroids orbit the Sun in a ring called the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt is located between the planets Mars and Jupiter. You can think of it as a belt between the rocky planets and the gas planets. There are millions and millions of asteroids in the asteroid belt.

Largest Asteroids

Some asteroids are so large that they are considered minor planets. The four largest asteroids are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea.


Several astroids and their sizes including Ceres
Several asteroids compared by size including
Ceres (the largest asteroid) and Vesta
Source: NASA, ESA, STScI

Trojan Asteroids

There are other groups of asteroids outside the asteroid belt. One major group is the Trojan asteroids. Trojan asteroids share an orbit with a planet or a moon. However, they don't collide with the planet. The majority of the Trojan asteroids orbit the sun with Jupiter. Some scientists think there may be as many Trojan asteroids as there are asteroids in the belt.

Could an asteroid hit Earth?

Yes, not only could an asteroid hit Earth, but many asteroids have already struck Earth. These asteroids are called Near-Earth asteroids and they have orbits that cause them to pass close to the Earth. It is estimated that an asteroid larger than 10 feet across strikes the Earth around once a year. These asteroids usually explode when they hit the Earth's atmosphere and cause little damage on the Earth's surface.

Interesting Facts about Asteroids
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