The Asteroid Belt Explained: Space Rocks By The Millions (Infographic)

Asteroids are small, metallic or rocky in composition and have no atmosphere. Most asteroids orbit the Sun in a wide belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter: the asteroid belt. Millions of asteroids are less than 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in diameter, but there are many that are larger. The largest, Ceres, measures 950 kilometers in diameter.

The first asteroid was discovered in 1801. There are three main classifications. Very dark C-type (carbonaceous) asteroids account for 75% of those listed. The second largest group is the S-type (siliceous or stony) asteroids, which account for 17% of the total. Type M (metallic) is shiny and composed mostly of iron.

While most asteroids are located in the main belt, asteroids can be located throughout the solar system. Those whose orbits bring them closer to Earth are called near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). They may have the potential to one day strike our planet.

Asteroids are thought to be mostly leftover material from the formation of the solar system. Jupiter’s gravitational influence prevented the material from forming a planet. If all known asteroid material were collected into a single mass, it would form a dwarf planet about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) in diameter, less than half the diameter of our moon.

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