Asteroids have long been fodder for science fiction novels and
myths. They are frequently in the news as well.
For instance, there has been recent talk about the possibility that an asteroid
could strike the earth and cause life as we know it to cease in an instant.
And it is widely believed in scientific circles that an asteroid colliding with
the earth resulted in the the extinction of the dinosaurs. True, asteroids do
cross the earth's path occasionally, but the odds of one striking the earth are
What exactly is an asteroid?
Like planets, asteroids are large objects consisting of rock and various types
of metals that revolve around the sun.
The factor that determines whether an object is considered a planet or an asteroid is its size. Objects that are too small to be considered a planet are
called asteroids, or minor planets.
Asteroids range in size from a fraction of an inch to several hundred miles in
diameter. Ceres, the largest asteroid, is 578 miles wide. Since Ceres is the
largest asteroid, it was also the first one discovered in the year 1801.
While asteroids are known to exist in all areas of the solar
system, most of them are in orbit around the sun in the "asteroid
belt" that lies between Mars and Jupiter.
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