To better understand the Solar System as a whole, researchers usually follow clues that provide insights into the background of the Universe. Such hints are found in space rocks, which tell us a lot about the birth of our Solar System and how it was when it formed.
Asteroids – Rocky Objects That Orbit the Sun
Asteroids are smaller than planets and rotate around the Sun. They are made of rocks and metals debris from the formation of the four planets closest to the Sun, also known as the inner Solar System, when a massive cloud of dust and gas crashed and formed the gigantic star.
Dissimilar to most spherical cosmic objects, asteroids are peculiarly shaped, with craters and irregular orbits. They differ in size and are located in a region known as the Asteroid Belt, between Mars and Jupiter, where they are, at times, attracted by Earth’s orbit.
Besides from collecting data on the chemical and physical composition of asteroids, NASA expeditions to analyze these cosmic bodies have been crucial in identifying the locations of other asteroids.
Comets – Formed in Colder Regions of Space
Differing in size, comets are made of rock, dust, ice, and gas. Researchers believe that they come from the Oort Cloud, an incredibly cold place that surrounds the Solar System and the Kuiper Belt, which is located beyond Neptune.
Comets are thought to be leftovers from the formation of the outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – and even though they were shaped about the same time as asteroids, comets were birthed in colder areas of space where water could freeze.
These space rocks orbit around the Sun in a more ovoid pattern than asteroids. When drawn in a closer orbit, the icy core of the comet starts to vaporize, and the ice and gases boil off, encircling the center of it to form a cloud known as a coma. The dust and gas are then strayed from the coma by solar winds in order to generate the tail of the comet, which is usually visible with the naked eye.
If comets get into Earth’s orbit, the dust and leftover material will collapse into our planet’s atmosphere, becoming meteoroids.
Meteoroids – They Transform Into Shooting Stars
A meteoroid is a piece of rock that rotates around the Sun and was snapped off from a comet or asteroid. When such a rock enters Earth’s atmosphere, the abrasion causes a flash of light and evaporates the meteoroid to take the shape of a meteor, also known as a shooting star.
Meteor shower defines the event of numerous meteoroids burning up in our planet’s atmosphere; if the meteoroid survives its trip through Earth’s atmosphere and manages to land on the ground, it is categorized as a meteorite.
Either large or small, space rocks do not naturally pose a threat to humans, but they are used as vital tools for scientists to understand our Solar System and beyond.