Asteroid, Meteor, Meteorite, and Comet: What’s the Difference?

image of asteroid

Adding up all the mass in each asteroid in our complete solar gadget totals handiest much less than the mass of our Moon. Despite their small bodily size, but, these area rocks offer critical clues as to how our sun gadget shaped. The phrases asteroid, meteor, meteorite, or even comet are frequently used interchangeably…However what is the distinction?

Asteroids are rocky items smaller than planets which are left over from the formation of our solar device. When the cloud of gasoline and dirt collapsed to shape our Sun, much of the remaining material went into forming the rocky terrestrial and fuel giant planets orbiting our famous person. Smaller dirt fragments that by no means made their manner into planets are left at the back of as asteroids.

Of the millions of known asteroids, the largest isCeres, 584 miles (940 kilometers) wide. Luckily we do not expect to cross paths with this Texas-sized asteroid any time soon. NASA tracks a subset of asteroids, called “near Earth objects” or NEOs, whose trajectories have been nudged by the gravitational push and pull of nearby planets enough so that they may pass close to Earth.

Thanks to infrared surveys of the sky like NASA’s WISE and NEOWISE missions, we know of roughly 1,000 near Earth asteroids that are larger than 0.6 miles across (or 1,000 meters) and 1,500 more that are between a third of a mile and 0.6 miles across (from 500 to 1,000 meters). Smaller near Earth asteroids, both known to exist and predicted based on statistical analysis, number in the 18,000s.

Most are not round like planets but rather irregular in shape sometimes due to repeated impacts over time. They are also known to orbit each other, making their way around the Sun in pairs or small groups. They are not large enough to hold onto their own atmospheres and their compositions vary mostly due to the location where they were formed, in particular how far away they were from the Sun when they originated.

Most asteroids live within the asteroid belt, the distance between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, maximum possibly due to the fact the gravitational pull of Jupiter avoided them from amassing into a larger planetary device. Some asteroids also are discovered in the orbital paths of planets like Earth. Until these days all regarded asteroids orbited our Sun as participants of our sun machine, however that modified in October 2017 whilst astronomers discovered the primary interstellar visitor just passing thru our sun community. Named Oumuamua, which comes from the Hawaiian word for ?Scout,? The asteroid has an uncommon elongated shape (800 by means of one hundred ft in size) and is shifting too speedy to be captured by means of our Sun?S gravitational pull. That manner Oumuamua will subsequently depart us and hold on its adventure via interstellar area.

Comets also are composed of cloth left over from the formation of our sun gadget and formed across the identical time as asteroids. However, asteroids shaped closer to the inner regions of our solar system wherein temperatures have been hotter and consequently most effective rock or steel should stay solid with out melting. Comets formed at farther distances from the Sun, past what we name the frost or snow line and past the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, where temperatures have been low enough for water to freeze.

Comets are accordingly chunks of frozen fuel, rock, ice, and dust that orbit our Sun earning them the nickname of dirty snowballs. They are diagnosed by means of their tails which encompass trailing jets of fuel and dust that has been melted off as a comet tactics too near the Sun.

Meteorites are meteors that live on the dive via the Earth?S surroundings

A meteor is simply an asteroid that attempts to land on Earth but is vaporized by the Earth’s atmosphere. The resistance on the rock due to the Earth’s atmosphere causes its temperature to rise. We sometimes see the glowing hot air created by these burning meteors and dub them “shooting stars.” Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes by many meteors at once. For example, if chunks of a comet melt off as it passes close to the Sun, this debris can be left behind to later dazzle us Earthlings with a meteor shower.

Meteorites are meteors that live on the dive via the Earth?S surroundings and manage to land on the surface of our planet. They are typically composed of either iron or stone, i.e. a mix of oxygen, silicon, magnesium, iron, and other elements.

Studying asteroids helps us understand the formation of our solar system and how our planet came to be. We don’t just have to wait for meteorites to find us to know more about their composition, however. The OSIRIS-Rex mission to the asteroid Bennu aims to take samples from the asteroid and bring them back to Earth. You can learn more about why Bennu was chosen for such a special mission and check out the countdown to the spacecraft’s approach to the asteroid on the OSIRIS-Rex mission page.

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan ofEveryday Einstein on Facebook orfollow me on Twitter, where I’m@QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at

Image courtesy of nasa.Gov

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