Saturday, June 06, 2015

The difference between asteroids and meteorites

[Phys.Org] Asteroids, meteors, and meteorites … It might be fair to say these rocks from space inspire both wonder and fear among us Earthlings. But knowing a bit more about each of them and how they differ may eliminate some potential misgivings. While all these rocks originate from space, they have different names depending their location—i.e. whether they are hurtling through space or hurtling through the atmosphere and impacting Earth's surface.

In simplest terms here are the definitions:
  • Asteroid: a large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
  • Meteoroid: much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
  • Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, which is often called a shooting star.
  • Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earth's atmosphere and lands on Earth's surface, it is then called a meteorite.
Another related term is bolide, which is a very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere. This can also be called a fireball.
Let's look at each in more detail:
Asteroids
Asteroids are found mainly in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Sometimes their orbits get perturbed or altered and some asteroids end up coming closer to the Sun, and therefore closer to Earth. In addition to the asteroid belt, however, there have been recent discussions among astronomers about the potential existence of large number asteroids in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud.
Asteroids are sometimes referred to as minor planets or planetoids, but in general, they are rocky bodies that do not have an atmosphere. However, a few have their own moons. Our solar system contains millions of asteroids, many of which are thought to be the shattered remnants of planetesimals – bodies within the young Sun's solar nebula that never grew large enough to become planets.
The size of what classifies as an asteroid is not extremely well defined, as an asteroid can range from a few meters wide – like a boulder—to objects that are hundreds of kilometers in diameter. The largest asteroid is asteroid Ceres at about 952 km (592 miles) in diameter, and Ceres is so large that it is also categorized as a dwarf planet.
Most asteroids are made of rock, but as we explore and learn more about them we know that some are composed of metal, mostly nickel and iron. According to NASA, a small portion of the asteroid population may be burned-out comets whose ices have evaporated away and been blown off into space. Recently, astronomers have discovered some asteroids that mimic comets in that gas and dust are emanating from them, and as we mentioned earlier, there appears to be a large number of bodies with asteroid-like compositions but comet-like orbits. Read More