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Galileo image of Gaspra (29 October 1991)
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NASA/JPL

Asteroids

Asteroids are small bodies that are believed to be left over from the beginning of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. They are rocky objects with round or irregular shapes up to several hundred km across, but most are much smaller.

More than 100,000 asteroids lie in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. These asteroids lie in a location in the solar system where there seems to be a jump in the spacing between the planets. Scientists think that this debris may be the remains of an early planet, which broke up early in the solar system. Several thousand of the largest asteroids in this belt have been given names.

The chances of an asteroid colliding with Earth are very small! But some do come close to Earth, like Hermes (closest approach of 777,000 km).


Last modified February 15, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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