Facts About Asteroid Belt's Origin, Location And More - Asteroid Belt Facts

The Asteroid Belt - Facts about asateroid belt
The Asteroid Belt with other groups of asteroids

In the cosmos between Mars and Jupiter lies the asteroid belt where numerous rock ranging in sizes from small pebbles to big rocks are floating in a disk and orbiting the Sun. This belt is also referred to as "Main Asteroid Belt" or "Main Belt" to differentiate it from other known groups of asteroids. Back in the mid 18th century, astronomers calculated that between Mars and Jupiter should be a planet. In 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi found such an object moving against the distant stars and named it "Ceres". Fifteen months later, a new object is identified in the same region. Then in 1802, William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, suggested that they should be placed in a different category: "asteroids". However, until 1845, they put the newly discovered objects as planets.

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Quick Facts About Asteroid Belt

  1. It is estimated that the total mass of the asteroid belt is roughly 4% that of our moon and a quarter to that of Pluto.
  2. There are asteroids that have their own moon. i.e., natural satellite.
  3. An analysis of the asteroid belt has shown that more than 200 asteroids are larger than 100 km. 
  4. Between 700,000 and 1.7 million asteroids are found to be diametre of 1 km or above.
  5. When asteroids collide with each other, they form an asteroid family. Members of an asteroid family have similar orbital characteristics and composition.
  6. The name Asteroid is coined from the Greek word "asteroeides", meaning "star-like".

Detailed Facts About Asteroid Belt

  • The asteroid belt covers an enormous region

Asteroid Belt is situated between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. The belt is located roughly between 330 to 478 million km (204.43 million to 297.45 million miles) away from the solar system centre. i.e. it's located about 2.2 - 3.2 AU ( Astronomical Unit). The space occupied by the belt is equal to the distance between the earth and the sun.
  • Jupiter's gravity helped in the formation of the asteroid belt

Collision between asteroids in the asteroid belt forming asteroid family
A collision between asteroids in the asteroid belt forming asteroid family

The rocks in the asteroid belt are the remnants that left behind after the formation of the Sun, planets and moons. In the early solar system, the asteroids collide together to form protoplanets.

However, due to Jupiter's intense gravity, collision became too violent that they shattered instead of getting fused. As a result, in the first 100 million years, 99.9% of the total mass of the asteroid belt was lost. Some of the fragments made their way to the inner solar system and bombarded the rocky planets.
  • One of the asteroids in the belt is recognised as a dwarf planet

Ceres and Vesta size comparision with our Moon
Ceres and Vesta size comparison with our Moon

The asteroid belt contains billions of space rocks, ranging in sizes from the tiny bits of dust to a quarter the size of our moon. Astonishingly, about the half of the mass of the asteroid belt is contained in four large objects which are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea have an average radius of less than 300 km. However, with a radius of about 425 km, Ceres is the only object in the belt that is large enough to be rounded by its gravity and thus called a dwarf planet.
  • spacecraft does not require any laser canon to travel through the asteroid belt

Dawn spacecraft traversing asteroid belt
Dawn spacecraft traversing asteroid belt

The lesser recognised truth in regards to the Asteroid Belt is the gaps between every asteroid. The gaps are so enormous that every asteroid is over 950,000 km or 600,000 miles away from one another. This distance is 24 times the circumference of the Earth. Astronomers calculated that due to the thick distribution of asteroids, the chances of a probe running into an asteroid is less than one in one billion.

These gaps are so vast that numerous spacecraft crossed through the asteroid belt without colliding with an asteroid. The first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt was Pioneer 10 which reached the belt on July 1972. At that time, astronomers thought that the belt would pose a threat to the spacecraft, but it traverses without getting crashed.
  • Asteroids are named after Goddess, astronomers and who study them

Initially, asteroids have been named after feminine goddesses like Ceres, Juno and Vesta. As astronomers started discovering a lot of asteroids in the belt, they ran out of names. Eventually, after a lengthy proposal, the International Astronomical Union allowed the astronomers to name the asteroids who found them.

Asteroids also get a number assigned to them as well. Several asteroids have been named after astronomers and their nicknames, together with astronomers who research asteroids. Like "234750 Amymainzer" named after Amy Mainzer who work with the WISE mission (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) and "3267 Glo" after the nickname of Eleanor Helin, who found fairly asteroids and comets.
  • Asteroids can become the space fuel station for our spacecraft

Asteroid Mining

There are a lot of space rocks in the space and people want to mine them because they contain water, metals, rare materials and substance that cannot found on earth. The asteroids fall on the three categories: C-type (carbonaceous) asteroids, S-type (silicaceous) asteroids, and M-type (metallic) asteroids.

The S-type or silicaceous asteroids are the second most abundant rock, represent 17% of known rocks. They come in reddish to a greenish colour and, silicates, iron-nickel and stony materials are found in these rocks. The M-type or metallic asteroids form 8% of the asteroid population. They are relatively brighter and are reddish. M-type contains precious metals such as iron-nickel, platinum and gold.

The C-type or carbonaceous asteroids is found in abundant forming around 75% of the known asteroids, and as the name suggest, they are rich in carbon. They contain the most valuable resource: Water. In space, the water is like the oil for the space-crafts, containing hydrogen and oxygen. They can be used to refuel the spacecraft and source for drinking water. However, the C-type asteroids are hard to detect. They are incredibly dark, absorbing almost all the sunlight.

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