Breakdown: Why asteroids, comets and meteors can be hard to identify

Breakdown: Space Rock

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - There are so many cool displays when it comes to stars and all the cosmic coolness but how can we tell what is what?

In this Breakdown, we will look at some of the differences. Most of the differences are in what they are made of and size.

An asteroid is a small rocky object that orbits the earth. Sometimes asteroids crash into another asteroid and small pieces break off. These small pieces are meteoroids.

Typically asteroids in our solar system are found between Mars and Jupiter. They can also be located around the solar system as some asteroids orbit the sun in a path that takes them close to earth.

When a meteoroid comes close to earth and enters earth’s atmosphere, it vaporizes and turns into a meteor. This is what we see as a streak of light in the sky.

Meteors are sometimes mistaken as shooting stars but they are just tiny pieces of rock. Some meteoroids are not entirely vaporized and they survive the journey to earth and land as rocks. These rocks are called meteorites.

Comets orbit the sun, like asteroids. But comets are made of ice and dust—not rock. When comets makes its journey around the sun, the ice and dust start to vaporize. That vaporized ice and dust, is what we sometimes see as the comets tail. Comets can be seen when they are far from earth. When you have sighted a meteor, it’s because it’s in our atmosphere.

  • Meteor: A meteoroid that enters the earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes. Also called a “shooting star although they are not stars.
  • Meteoroid: A small rocky or metal object, usually between the size of a grain of sand or a boulder, that orbits the sun. It originates from a comet or asteroid.
  • Asteroid: An object larger than a meteoroid that orbits the sun and is made of rock or metal. Typically, objects larger than 10 meters in diameter
  • Comet: A body of ice, rock and dust that can be several miles in diameter and orbits the sun. Debris from comets is the source of many meteoroids.

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