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  • Elizabeth Cocking

Did you know?...the asteroid belt

The disc shaped asteroid belt is located between Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 329-478 million kilometres from the Sun. The image below is a diagrammatic view courtesy NASA/ESA/STSci of the asteroid belt, and you can see the Earth and Jupiter and in the Centre our Sun. The caption reads "Asteroid belts at just the right placers are friendly to life".

The size of objects in the asteroid belt vary from as small as a dust particle to almost 1,000 kilometres wide. The largest is Ceres, the only dwarf planet in the asteroid belt.

Many people picture the asteroid belt crowded with asteroids, however this is not the case. The asteroid belt is so vast that objects are widely spread out, the average distance between them is over 960,000 kilometres. Spacecraft can pass through the region with virtually no chance of a collision. Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel across the asteroid belt emerging unscathed on the 15th February 1973 after a voyage of approximately 435 million kilometres.

The four largest objects in the belt are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. These four asteroids contain half the mass that is in the entire asteroid belt.

All asteroids are irregular in shape and contain a high volume of resources that are valuable on Earth like nickel, iron, and titanium.

Sometimes the asteroid belt is called the main belt to help differentiate between other groups of asteroids in the solar system.

The asteroid belt was first identified in the 1800’s with the discovery of Ceres in 1801. Over the next few decades more objects were found and in the 1850’s astronomers began referring to the region as the “asteroid belt”.


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