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Facts about our solar system's asteroids

AsteroidsAsteroids 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 extremely low.

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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