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Solar System


asteroid belt, Space scientists, orbit of Earth, dinosaurs, planets

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>  Asteroids Compared to Other Solar System Objects

>  Origin of Asteroids

>  Composition of Asteroids

>  Asteroids in the Asteroid Belt

>  Asteroids Outside The Asteroid Belt

>  Study and Exploration of Asteroids

>  Asteroids and Earth

Asteroid, small rocky or metallic body that orbits the Sun. Hundreds of thousands of asteroids exist in the solar system. Asteroids range in size from a few meters to over 500 km (300 mi) wide. They are generally irregular in shape and often have surfaces covered with craters. Like icy comets, asteroids are primitive objects left over from the time when the planets formed, making them of special interest to astronomers and planetary scientists.

Most asteroids are found between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter in a wide region called the asteroid belt. Scientists think Jupiterís gravity prevented rocky objects in this part of the solar system from forming into a large planet. The giant planet Jupiterís gravity also helped throw objects out of the asteroid belt. The hundreds of thousands of asteroids now in the asteroid belt represent only a small fraction of the original population.

Thousands of asteroids have orbits that lie outside the asteroid belt. Some of these asteroids have paths that cross the orbit of Earth. Many scientists think that an asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Because asteroids can pose a danger to people and other life on Earth, astronomers track asteroids that come near our planet. Space scientists are also studying ways to deflect or destroy an asteroid that might strike Earth in the future.

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