Asteroids, Meteors, Meteorites, and Comets, are so many terms and every term has a different meaning and all are related to space! Comets, asteroids, meteoroids, and, if they reach Earth, meteors or meteorites are given to these spacefarers since they are too tiny to be termed planets. It’s easy to lose track of which label is which when there are so many.
A tiny rocky body that circles the Sun is known as an asteroid. Asteroids are smaller than planets but larger than meteoroids, which are pebble-sized particles. The main asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, is home to the majority of asteroids in our solar system. They can, however, linger out in distant parts of the solar system. Some asteroids, for example, circle the Sun in a manner that brings them close to Earth.
With their oblong forms and surfaces stained by countless scars created by impacts with other asteroids, most asteroids resemble huge space potatoes. Ceres is one of a tiny handful of asteroids that are massive enough to be formed into spheres by gravity. According to NASA, asteroids range in composition from dark, stony clumps of debris made up of clay and silicate rocks to brilliant and solid amalgamations of metals like iron or nickel.
When a meteoroid approaches Earth and reaches the atmosphere, it vaporizes and becomes a meteor, a streak of light in the sky. These streaks of light are sometimes referred to as “shooting stars” because of their appearance. Meteors, on the other hand, aren’t stars at all.
When a tiny meteoroid penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere, it emits light known as a meteor. This usually occurs at speeds of 11 to 73 km/s and at altitudes of 75 to 120 km. A spectator can view 5 to 10 meteors every hour under a clear sky, especially after midnight when the Earth has rotated far enough that the observer’s half of the sky is in the direction of the Earth’s position around the Sun. During so-called meteor showers, the number of visible meteors per hour might skyrocket. Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through higher-than-normal quantities of particles orbiting the Sun in an eccentric orbit.
Finally, any asteroid or meteoroid that survives its journey through Earth’s atmosphere (although this is a rare occurrence) can be classified as a meteorite. Rock (stony meteorites), metal (iron meteorites), or a combination of the two materials make up meteorites (stony-iron meteorites or pallasites). Pallasites are olivine crystals encased in a metal matrix that generate attractive olivine crystals. Meteorites are the first substance to form in our early solar system, over 4.6 billion years ago, and scientists are keen to examine them.
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Comets are asteroid-like objects made up of ice, dust, and stony fragments, earning them the nickname “dirty snowballs.” Their nuclei range in size from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers in diameter, and their visible tails can be over 150 million kilometers long. They come from outside Neptune’s orbit and, like many asteroids and meteoroids, are unaltered remains of our solar system’s birth some 4.568 billion years ago.
When comets approach the Sun, solar radiation and solar winds cause particles to sublimate and separate from the comet, generating a trail of particles that may be seen even with the naked eye in the night sky. Comets travel in elliptical orbits around the Sun until all of their volatile stuff has dissipated. The orbital periods range from a few years to tens of millions of years (as with comet Encke). While we may witness Halley’s Comet every 75 years, we will have to wait 106 000 years to see Comet Panstarrs, our 2013 visitor.