Understanding Asteroids

The infinite space and its uncountable mysteries will pique anyone’s interest; hence, multiple theories and movie plots exist today; we all know it ends badly for us in each!

One of the most popular plots is the ultimate destruction of mankind by a falling asteroid. Since we believe that the dinosaurs’ reign ended with an asteroid some few million years ago, is it wrong to question that we might face the same fate somewhere in the distant future? 

The real questions you should be asking are, how well do we know asteroids? Where did they come from? Are we prepared to save humanity if an asteroid is headed our way? 

You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for answers. Tune in as we delve deeper into everything you should know about asteroids.

What Exactly Are Asteroids?

The rocky materials or remnants floating around space orbiting the sun are asteroids. Even though they orbit the sun like the rest of the planets in our solar system, asteroids are extremely smaller when compared.

In addition, unlike the planets, asteroids do not have a distinct form, shape, or size, which means they could be as large as nearly 1000km wide, or the asteroid could be no bigger than a dust particle.

Did you know that the largest asteroid ever recorded is named Ceres, and it’s at least 940km wide? It was given the name “Dwarf Planet” for its size and its almost spherical shape.

That said, the asteroids could be almost spherical like Ceres, but most of these objects, in general, are irregularly shaped or jagged. They even rotate erratically, unlike planets in the solar system. If you’re wondering where they exist, you’d be surprised to know that asteroids are orbiting the sun throughout the solar system.

Pinpointing an exact location where you would find asteroids abundantly is the asteroid belt, the region between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars but are not limited to this region.

They can also be found in the orbits of planets circling the sun. This means that the planet and the asteroids are orbiting the sun in the same oval path, also known as the elliptical orbit.

While millions of asteroids may have not been discovered yet, the current asteroid count by NASA is a little over a million. 

What Is the Origin Story Of Asteroids?

Yes, it is as heavenly as you might’ve imagined. You must’ve come across how the entire solar system, according to science, came about. It dates back to 4.5 billion years ago and involves a thick cloud of dust and gas.

A great science and history lesson for another day. However, when this event of the solar system’s formation came about, the materials that remained and haven’t been incorporated into the creation of planets are what we call asteroids today!

The Composition and Classification Of Asteroids

Now that we clearly understand that asteroids vary in shape, size, region, and formation, let’s delve deeper into their composition and classification, according to NASA.

The Composition

The composition classes of these asteroids are divided into three types, Chondrite (C-type), Stony (S-type), and Metallic (M-type).

  • Chondrite (C-type)

Chondrite asteroids are among the most ancient and common types of asteroids you’ll find in the solar system. They are dark, and it is assumed and studied that these types of asteroids comprise silicate rocks and clay.

They are assumed to have remained completely unchanged for billions of years.

  • Stony (S-type)

These types of asteroids represent at least 17%, give or take, of the known asteroids today! They are known to be bright and comprise nickel-iron and silicate materials. 

It has been studied that the Stony (S-type) asteroids are mostly located in the inner asteroid belt. 

  • Metallic (M-type)

The metallic (M-type) asteroids are known to be the third most common asteroids found in the solar system, yet it is one of the least studied asteroids today. They are quite bright, and not every asteroid in the M-type is made of metal, nickel-iron. 

These asteroids differentiate in their composition based on how far away it was formed from the sun. 

The Classification 

  • Asteroid Belt

The Asteroid belt is the main location where most of the asteroids we know today are found. This belt exists between Jupiter and Mars. It is estimated that around 1.1 to 1.9 million asteroids in this region are larger than 0.6 miles (1km) in diameter.

However, the belt also contains millions of smaller asteroids due to these remains of materials clashing together. 

  • The Near Earth Asteroids

Some asteroids have orbits that pass close to our mother Earth and hence are classified as near-earth asteroids. However, if you’re wondering if some of these asteroids cross paths with Earth and not just orbit close to it, then yes!

These asteroids are classified as “earth-crossers.”

  • The Trojans

The asteroids that share an orbit with a planet are the Trojan asteroids. It never collides with the planets since they are usually located in two particular places known as the L4 and 5 Lagrangian points.

How this works and why they never collide is because these special points keep the asteroid from flying astray with the help of a balanced gravitational pull from the planet and the sun.

In theory, it is proposed that there are as many Jupiter trojan asteroids as in the asteroid belt. So Jupiter hosts the most trojans compared to Mars and Earth.

Will We Ever Face An Asteroid Apocalypse? 

While the thought of an asteroid hitting Earth and ending all mankind sounds extremely horrific even to imagine, we won’t be facing this type of destruction for a couple of million years with the technological advancement we have today!