Asteroids are minor planets, especially of the inner Solar System. Larger asteroids have also been called planetoids. These terms have historically been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resemble a planet-like disc and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered they were typically found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets. As a result, they were often distinguished from objects found in the main asteroid belt. In this article, the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System including those co-orbital with Jupiter.
There exist millions of asteroids, many thought to be the shattered remnants of planetesimals, bodies within the young Sun's solar nebula that never grew large enough to become planets. The vast majority of known asteroids orbit within the main asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, or are co-orbital with Jupiter (the Jupiter trojans). However, other orbital families exist with significant populations, including the near-Earth objects. Individual asteroids are classified by their characteristic spectra, with the majority falling into three main groups: C-type, M-type, and S-type. These were named after and are generally identified with carbon-rich, metallic, and silicate (stony) compositions, respectively. The sizes of asteroids varies greatly; the largest, Ceres, is almost 1,000 km (625 mi) across.
Asteroids are differentiated from comets and meteoroids. In the case of comets, the difference is one of composition: while asteroids are mainly composed of mineral and rock, comets are primarily composed of dust and ice. Furthermore, asteroids formed closer to the sun, preventing the development of cometary ice. The difference between asteroids and meteoroids is mainly one of size: meteoroids have a diameter of one meter or less, whereas asteroids have a diameter of greater than one meter. Finally, meteoroids can be composed of either cometary or asteroidal materials.
Only one asteroid, 4 Vesta, which has a relatively reflective surface, is normally visible to the naked eye, and this only in very dark skies when it is favorably positioned. Rarely, small asteroids passing close to Earth may be visible to the naked eye for a short time. As of October 2017, the Minor Planet Center had data on almost 745,000 objects in the inner and outer Solar System, of which almost 504,000 had enough information to be given numbered designations.
The United Nations declared 30 June as International Asteroid Day to educate the public about asteroids. The date of International Asteroid Day commemorates the anniversary of the Tunguska asteroid impact over Siberia, Russian Federation, on 30 June 1908.
In April 2018, the B612 Foundation reported "It's 100 percent certain we'll be hit [by a devastating asteroid], but we're not 100 percent sure when." Also in 2018, physicist Stephen Hawking, in his final book Brief Answers to the Big Questions, considered an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet. In June 2018, the US National Science and Technology Council warned that America is unprepared for an asteroid impact event, and has developed and released the "National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy Action Plan" to better prepare. According to expert testimony in the United States Congress in 2013, NASA would require at least five years of preparation before a mission to intercept an asteroid could be launched.
The first asteroid to be discovered, Ceres, was originally considered to be a new planet.[note 1] This was followed by the discovery of other similar bodies, which, with the equipment of the time, appeared to be points of light, like stars, showing little or no planetary disc, though readily distinguishable from stars due to their apparent motions. This prompted the astronomer Sir William Herschel to propose the term "asteroid",[note 2] coined in Greek as ἀστεροειδής, or asteroeidēs, meaning 'star-like, star-shaped', and derived from the Ancient Greek ἀστήρ astēr 'star, planet'. In the early second half of the nineteenth century, the terms "asteroid" and "planet" (not always qualified as "minor") were still used interchangeably. [note 3]
Overview of discovery timeline:
Asteroid discovery methods have dramatically improved over the past two centuries.
In the last years of the 18th century, Baron Franz Xaver von Zach organized a group of 24 astronomers to search the sky for the missing planet predicted at about 2.8 AU from the Sun by the Titius-Bode law, partly because of the discovery, by Sir William Herschel in 1781, of the planet Uranus at the distance predicted by the law. This task required that hand-drawn sky charts be prepared for all stars in the zodiacal band down to an agreed-upon limit of faintness. On subsequent nights, the sky would be charted again and any moving object would, hopefully, be spotted. The expected motion of the missing planet was about 30 seconds of arc per hour, readily discernible by observers.
The first object, Ceres, was not discovered by a member of the group, but rather by accident in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, director of the observatory of Palermo in Sicily. He discovered a new star-like object in Taurus and followed the displacement of this object during several nights. Later that year, Carl Friedrich Gauss used these observations to calculate the orbit of this unknown object, which was found to be between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Piazzi named it after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.
Three other asteroids (2 Pallas, 3 Juno, and 4 Vesta) were discovered over the next few years, with Vesta found in 1807. After eight more years of fruitless searches, most astronomers assumed that there were no more and abandoned any further searches.
However, Karl Ludwig Hencke persisted, and began searching for more asteroids in 1830. Fifteen years later, he found 5 Astraea, the first new asteroid in 38 years. He also found 6 Hebe less than two years later. After this, other astronomers joined in the search and at least one new asteroid was discovered every year after that (except the wartime years 1944 and 1945). Notable asteroid hunters of this early era were J. R. Hind, Annibale de Gasparis, Robert Luther, H. M. S. Goldschmidt, Jean Chacornac, James Ferguson, Norman Robert Pogson, E. W. Tempel, J. C. Watson, C. H. F. Peters, A. Borrelly, J. Palisa, the Henry brothers and Auguste Charlois.
In 1891, Max Wolf pioneered the use of astrophotography to detect asteroids, which appeared as short streaks on long-exposure photographic plates. This dramatically increased the rate of detection compared with earlier visual methods: Wolf alone discovered 248 asteroids, beginning with 323 Brucia, whereas only slightly more than 300 had been discovered up to that point. It was known that there were many more, but most astronomers did not bother with them, calling them "vermin of the skies", a phrase variously attributed to Eduard Suess and Edmund Weiss. Even a century later, only a few thousand asteroids were identified, numbered and named.
Until 1998, asteroids were discovered by a four-step process. First, a region of the sky was photographed by a wide-field telescope, or astrograph. Pairs of photographs were taken, typically one hour apart. Multiple pairs could be taken over a series of days. Second, the two films or plates of the same region were viewed under a stereoscope. Any body in orbit around the Sun would move slightly between the pair of films. Under the stereoscope, the image of the body would seem to float slightly above the background of stars. Third, once a moving body was identified, its location would be measured precisely using a digitizing microscope. The location would be measured relative to known star locations.
These first three steps do not constitute asteroid discovery: the observer has only found an apparition, which gets a provisional designation, made up of the year of discovery, a letter representing the half-month of discovery, and finally a letter and a number indicating the discovery's sequential number (example: 1998 FJ74).
The last step of discovery is to send the locations and time of observations to the Minor Planet Center, where computer programs determine whether an apparition ties together earlier apparitions into a single orbit. If so, the object receives a catalogue number and the observer of the first apparition with a calculated orbit is declared the discoverer, and granted the honor of naming the object subject to the approval of the International Astronomical Union.
There is increasing interest in identifying asteroids whose orbits cross Earth's, and that could, given enough time, collide with Earth (see Earth-crosser asteroids). The three most important groups of near-Earth asteroids are the Apollos, Amors, and Atens. Various asteroid deflection strategies have been proposed, as early as the 1960s.
The near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros had been discovered as long ago as 1898, and the 1930s brought a flurry of similar objects. In order of discovery, these were: 1221 Amor, 1862 Apollo, 2101 Adonis, and finally 69230 Hermes, which approached within 0.005 AU of Earth in 1937. Astronomers began to realize the possibilities of Earth impact.
Two events in later decades increased the alarm: the increasing acceptance of the Alvarez hypothesis that an impact event resulted in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction, and the 1994 observation of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter. The U.S. military also declassified the information that its military satellites, built to detect nuclear explosions, had detected hundreds of upper-atmosphere impacts by objects ranging from one to ten meters across.
All these considerations helped spur the launch of highly efficient surveys that consist of charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras and computers directly connected to telescopes. As of 2011, it was estimated that 89% to 96% of near-Earth asteroids one kilometer or larger in diameter had been discovered. A list of teams using such systems includes: 
As of 29 October 2018, the LINEAR system alone has discovered 147,132 asteroids. Among all the surveys, 19,266 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered including almost 900 more than 1 km (0.6 mi) in diameter.
Traditionally, small bodies orbiting the Sun were classified as comets, asteroids, or meteoroids, with anything smaller than one meter across being called a meteoroid. Beech and Steel's 1995 paper proposed a meteoroid definition including size limits. The term "asteroid", from the Greek word for "star-like", never had a formal definition, with the broader term minor planet being preferred by the International Astronomical Union.
However, following the discovery of asteroids below ten meters in size, Rubin and Grossman's 2010 paper revised the previous definition of meteoroid to objects between 10 µm and 1 meter in size in order to maintain the distinction between asteroids and meteoroids. The smallest asteroids discovered (based on absolute magnitude H) are 2008 TS26 with H = 33.2 and 2011 CQ1 with H = 32.1 both with an estimated size of about 1 meter.
In 2006, the term "small Solar System body" was also introduced to cover both most minor planets and comets.[note 4] Other languages prefer "planetoid" (Greek for "planet-like"), and this term is occasionally used in English especially for larger minor planets such as the dwarf planets as well as an alternative for asteroids since they are not star-like. The word "planetesimal" has a similar meaning, but refers specifically to the small building blocks of the planets that existed when the Solar System was forming. The term "planetule" was coined by the geologist William Daniel Conybeare to describe minor planets, but is not in common use. The three largest objects in the asteroid belt, Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta, grew to the stage of protoplanets. Ceres is a dwarf planet, the only one in the inner Solar System.
When found, asteroids were seen as a class of objects distinct from comets, and there was no unified term for the two until "small Solar System body" was coined in 2006. The main difference between an asteroid and a comet is that a comet shows a coma due to sublimation of near surface ices by solar radiation. A few objects have ended up being dual-listed because they were first classified as minor planets but later showed evidence of cometary activity. Conversely, some (perhaps all) comets are eventually depleted of their surface volatile ices and become asteroid-like. A further distinction is that comets typically have more eccentric orbits than most asteroids; most "asteroids" with notably eccentric orbits are probably dormant or extinct comets.
For almost two centuries, from the discovery of Ceres in 1801 until the discovery of the first centaur, Chiron in 1977, all known asteroids spent most of their time at or within the orbit of Jupiter, though a few such as Hidalgo ventured far beyond Jupiter for part of their orbit. Those located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter were known for many years simply as The Asteroids. When astronomers started finding more small bodies that permanently resided further out than Jupiter, now called centaurs, they numbered them among the traditional asteroids, though there was debate over whether they should be considered asteroids or as a new type of object. Then, when the first trans-Neptunian object (other than Pluto), Albion, was discovered in 1992, and especially when large numbers of similar objects started turning up, new terms were invented to sidestep the issue: Kuiper-belt object, trans-Neptunian object, scattered-disc object, and so on. These inhabit the cold outer reaches of the Solar System where ices remain solid and comet-like bodies are not expected to exhibit much cometary activity; if centaurs or trans-Neptunian objects were to venture close to the Sun, their volatile ices would sublimate, and traditional approaches would classify them as comets and not asteroids.
The innermost of these are the Kuiper-belt objects, called "objects" partly to avoid the need to classify them as asteroids or comets. They are thought to be predominantly comet-like in composition, though some may be more akin to asteroids. Furthermore, most do not have the highly eccentric orbits associated with comets, and the ones so far discovered are larger than traditional comet nuclei. (The much more distant Oort cloud is hypothesized to be the main reservoir of dormant comets.) Other recent observations, such as the analysis of the cometary dust collected by the Stardust probe, are increasingly blurring the distinction between comets and asteroids, suggesting "a continuum between asteroids and comets" rather than a sharp dividing line.
The minor planets beyond Jupiter's orbit are sometimes also called "asteroids", especially in popular presentations.[note 5] However, it is becoming increasingly common for the term "asteroid" to be restricted to minor planets of the inner Solar System. Therefore, this article will restrict itself for the most part to the classical asteroids: objects of the asteroid belt, Jupiter trojans, and near-Earth objects.
When the IAU introduced the class small Solar System bodies in 2006 to include most objects previously classified as minor planets and comets, they created the class of dwarf planets for the largest minor planets – those that have enough mass to have become ellipsoidal under their own gravity. According to the IAU, "the term 'minor planet' may still be used, but generally the term 'Small Solar System Body' will be preferred." Currently only the largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres, at about 975 km (606 mi) across, has been placed in the dwarf planet category.
It is thought that planetesimals in the asteroid belt evolved much like the rest of the solar nebula until Jupiter neared its current mass, at which point excitation from orbital resonances with Jupiter ejected over 99% of planetesimals in the belt. Simulations and a discontinuity in spin rate and spectral properties suggest that asteroids larger than approximately 120 km (75 mi) in diameter accreted during that early era, whereas smaller bodies are fragments from collisions between asteroids during or after the Jovian disruption. Ceres and Vesta grew large enough to melt and differentiate, with heavy metallic elements sinking to the core, leaving rocky minerals in the crust.
In the Nice model, many Kuiper-belt objects are captured in the outer asteroid belt, at distances greater than 2.6 AU. Most were later ejected by Jupiter, but those that remained may be the D-type asteroids, and possibly include Ceres.
Various dynamical groups of asteroids have been discovered orbiting in the inner Solar System. Their orbits are perturbed by the gravity of other bodies in the Solar System and by the Yarkovsky effect. Significant populations include:
The majority of known asteroids orbit within the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, generally in relatively low-eccentricity (i.e. not very elongated) orbits. This belt is now estimated to contain between 1.1 and 1.9 million asteroids larger than 1 km (0.6 mi) in diameter, and millions of smaller ones. These asteroids may be remnants of the protoplanetary disk, and in this region the accretion of planetesimals into planets during the formative period of the Solar System was prevented by large gravitational perturbations by Jupiter.
Trojans are populations that share an orbit with a larger planet or moon, but do not collide with it because they orbit in one of the two Lagrangian points of stability, L4 and L5, which lie 60° ahead of and behind the larger body.
The most significant population of trojans are the Jupiter trojans. Although fewer Jupiter trojans have been discovered (As of 2010), it is thought that they are as numerous as the asteroids in the asteroid belt. Trojans have been found in the orbits of other planets, including Venus, Earth, Mars, Uranus, and Neptune.
Near-Earth asteroids, or NEAs, are asteroids that have orbits that pass close to that of Earth. Asteroids that actually cross Earth's orbital path are known as Earth-crossers. As of June 2016, 14,464 near-Earth asteroids are known and the number over one kilometer in diameter is estimated to be 900–1,000.
Asteroids vary greatly in size, from almost 1000 km for the largest down to rocks just 1 meter across.[note 6] The three largest are very much like miniature planets: they are roughly spherical, have at least partly differentiated interiors, and are thought to be surviving protoplanets. The vast majority, however, are much smaller and are irregularly shaped; they are thought to be either surviving planetesimals or fragments of larger bodies.
The dwarf planet Ceres is by far the largest asteroid, with a diameter of 975 km (606 mi). The next largest are 4 Vesta and 2 Pallas, both with diameters of just over 500 km (300 mi). Vesta is the only main-belt asteroid that can, on occasion, be visible to the naked eye. On some rare occasions, a near-Earth asteroid may briefly become visible without technical aid; see 99942 Apophis.
The mass of all the objects of the asteroid belt, lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, is estimated to be about 2.8–3.2×1021 kg, or about 4% of the mass of the Moon. Of this, Ceres comprises 0.95×1021 kg, a third of the total. Adding in the next three most massive objects, Vesta (9%), Pallas (7%), and Hygiea (3%), brings this figure up to 51%; whereas the three after that, 511 Davida (1.2%), 704 Interamnia (1.0%), and 52 Europa (0.9%), only add another 3% to the total mass. The number of asteroids then increases rapidly as their individual masses decrease.
The number of asteroids decreases markedly with size. Although this generally follows a power law, there are 'bumps' at 5 km and 100 km, where more asteroids than expected from a logarithmic distribution are found.
|Approximate number of asteroids (N) larger than a certain diameter (D)|
|D||0.1 km||0.3 km||0.5 km||1 km||3 km||5 km||10 km||30 km||50 km||100 km||200 km||300 km||500 km||900 km|
Although their location in the asteroid belt excludes them from planet status, the three largest objects, Ceres, Vesta, and Pallas, are intact protoplanets that share many characteristics common to planets, and are atypical compared to the majority of "potato"-shaped asteroids. The fourth largest asteroid, Hygiea, has an undifferentiated interior, like the majority of asteroids. Between them, the four largest asteroids constitute half the mass of the asteroid belt.
Ceres is the only asteroid with a fully ellipsoidal shape and hence the only one that is a dwarf planet. It has a much higher absolute magnitude than the other asteroids, of around 3.32, and may possess a surface layer of ice. Like the planets, Ceres is differentiated: it has a crust, a mantle and a core. No meteorites from Ceres have been found on Earth.
Vesta, too, has a differentiated interior, though it formed inside the Solar System's frost line, and so is devoid of water; its composition is mainly of basaltic rock such as olivine. Aside from the large crater at its southern pole, Rheasilvia, Vesta also has an ellipsoidal shape. Vesta is the parent body of the Vestian family and other V-type asteroids, and is the source of the HED meteorites, which constitute 5% of all meteorites on Earth.
Pallas is unusual in that, like Uranus, it rotates on its side, with its axis of rotation tilted at high angles to its orbital plane. Its composition is similar to that of Ceres: high in carbon and silicon, and perhaps partially differentiated. Pallas is the parent body of the Palladian family of asteroids.
Hygiea is the largest carbonaceous asteroid and, unlike the other largest asteroids, lies relatively close to the plane of the ecliptic. It is the largest member and presumed parent body of the Hygiean family of asteroids.
|Attributes of largest asteroids|
(% of Moon)
(% of Ceres)
|15%||260||28%||3.44 ± 0.12||5.34||29°||85–270 K|
|28%||940||100%||2.12 ± 0.04||9.07||≈ 3°||167 K|
|16%||210||22%||2.71 ± 0.11||7.81||≈ 80°||164 K|
|12%||87||9%||2.76 ± 1.2||27.6||≈ 60°||164 K|
Measurements of the rotation rates of large asteroids in the asteroid belt show that there is an upper limit. Very few asteroids with a diameter larger than 100 meters have a rotation period smaller than 2.2 hours. For asteroids rotating faster than approximately this rate, the inertial force at the surface is greater than the gravitational force, so any loose surface material would be flung out. However, a solid object should be able to rotate much more rapidly. This suggests that most asteroids with a diameter over 100 meters are rubble piles formed through accumulation of debris after collisions between asteroids.
The physical composition of asteroids is varied and in most cases poorly understood. Ceres appears to be composed of a rocky core covered by an icy mantle, where Vesta is thought to have a nickel-iron core, olivine mantle, and basaltic crust. 10 Hygiea, however, which appears to have a uniformly primitive composition of carbonaceous chondrite, is thought to be the largest undifferentiated asteroid. Most of the smaller asteroids are thought to be piles of rubble held together loosely by gravity, though the largest are probably solid. Some asteroids have moons or are co-orbiting binaries: Rubble piles, moons, binaries, and scattered asteroid families are thought to be the results of collisions that disrupted a parent asteroid, or, possibly, a planet.
Asteroids contain traces of amino acids and other organic compounds, and some speculate that asteroid impacts may have seeded the early Earth with the chemicals necessary to initiate life, or may have even brought life itself to Earth (also see panspermia). In August 2011, a report, based on NASA studies with meteorites found on Earth, was published suggesting DNA and RNA components (adenine, guanine and related organic molecules) may have been formed on asteroids and comets in outer space.
Composition is calculated from three primary sources: albedo, surface spectrum, and density. The last can only be determined accurately by observing the orbits of moons the asteroid might have. So far, every asteroid with moons has turned out to be a rubble pile, a loose conglomeration of rock and metal that may be half empty space by volume. The investigated asteroids are as large as 280 km in diameter, and include 121 Hermione (268×186×183 km), and 87 Sylvia (384×262×232 km). Only half a dozen asteroids are larger than 87 Sylvia, though none of them have moons; however, some smaller asteroids are thought to be more massive, suggesting they may not have been disrupted, and indeed 511 Davida, the same size as Sylvia to within measurement error, is estimated to be two and a half times as massive, though this is highly uncertain. The fact that such large asteroids as Sylvia can be rubble piles, presumably due to disruptive impacts, has important consequences for the formation of the Solar System: Computer simulations of collisions involving solid bodies show them destroying each other as often as merging, but colliding rubble piles are more likely to merge. This means that the cores of the planets could have formed relatively quickly.
On 7 October 2009, the presence of water ice was confirmed on the surface of 24 Themis using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility. The surface of the asteroid appears completely covered in ice. As this ice layer is sublimating, it may be getting replenished by a reservoir of ice under the surface. Organic compounds were also detected on the surface. Scientists hypothesize that some of the first water brought to Earth was delivered by asteroid impacts after the collision that produced the Moon. The presence of ice on 24 Themis supports this theory.
In October 2013, water was detected on an extrasolar body for the first time, on an asteroid orbiting the white dwarf GD 61. On 22 January 2014, European Space Agency (ESA) scientists reported the detection, for the first definitive time, of water vapor on Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. The detection was made by using the far-infrared abilities of the Herschel Space Observatory. The finding is unexpected because comets, not asteroids, are typically considered to "sprout jets and plumes". According to one of the scientists, "The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids." In May 2016, significant asteroid data arising from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer and NEOWISE missions have been questioned. Although the early original criticism had not undergone peer review, a more recent peer-reviewed study was subsequently published.
Most asteroids outside the "big four" (Ceres, Pallas, Vesta, and Hygiea) are likely to be broadly similar in appearance, if irregular in shape. 50-km (31-mi) 253 Mathilde is a rubble pile saturated with craters with diameters the size of the asteroid's radius, and Earth-based observations of 300-km (186-mi) 511 Davida, one of the largest asteroids after the big four, reveal a similarly angular profile, suggesting it is also saturated with radius-size craters. Medium-sized asteroids such as Mathilde and 243 Ida that have been observed up close also reveal a deep regolith covering the surface. Of the big four, Pallas and Hygiea are practically unknown. Vesta has compression fractures encircling a radius-size crater at its south pole but is otherwise a spheroid. Ceres seems quite different in the glimpses Hubble has provided, with surface features that are unlikely to be due to simple craters and impact basins, but details will be expanded with the Dawn spacecraft, which entered Ceres orbit on 6 March 2015.
Asteroids become darker and redder with age due to space weathering. However evidence suggests most of the color change occurs rapidly, in the first hundred thousands years, limiting the usefulness of spectral measurement for determining the age of asteroids.
Asteroids are commonly classified according to two criteria: the characteristics of their orbits, and features of their reflectance spectrum.
Many asteroids have been placed in groups and families based on their orbital characteristics. Apart from the broadest divisions, it is customary to name a group of asteroids after the first member of that group to be discovered. Groups are relatively loose dynamical associations, whereas families are tighter and result from the catastrophic break-up of a large parent asteroid sometime in the past. Families are more common and easier to identify within the main asteroid belt, but several small families have been reported among the Jupiter trojans. Main belt families were first recognized by Kiyotsugu Hirayama in 1918 and are often called Hirayama families in his honor.
About 30–35% of the bodies in the asteroid belt belong to dynamical families each thought to have a common origin in a past collision between asteroids. A family has also been associated with the plutoid dwarf planet Haumea.
Some asteroids have unusual horseshoe orbits that are co-orbital with Earth or some other planet. Examples are 3753 Cruithne and 2002 AA29. The first instance of this type of orbital arrangement was discovered between Saturn's moons Epimetheus and Janus.
Sometimes these horseshoe objects temporarily become quasi-satellites for a few decades or a few hundred years, before returning to their earlier status. Both Earth and Venus are known to have quasi-satellites.
In 1975, an asteroid taxonomic system based on color, albedo, and spectral shape was developed by Clark R. Chapman, David Morrison, and Ben Zellner. These properties are thought to correspond to the composition of the asteroid's surface material. The original classification system had three categories: C-types for dark carbonaceous objects (75% of known asteroids), S-types for stony (silicaceous) objects (17% of known asteroids) and U for those that did not fit into either C or S. This classification has since been expanded to include many other asteroid types. The number of types continues to grow as more asteroids are studied.
The two most widely used taxonomies now used are the Tholen classification and SMASS classification. The former was proposed in 1984 by David J. Tholen, and was based on data collected from an eight-color asteroid survey performed in the 1980s. This resulted in 14 asteroid categories. In 2002, the Small Main-Belt Asteroid Spectroscopic Survey resulted in a modified version of the Tholen taxonomy with 24 different types. Both systems have three broad categories of C, S, and X asteroids, where X consists of mostly metallic asteroids, such as the M-type. There are also several smaller classes.
The proportion of known asteroids falling into the various spectral types does not necessarily reflect the proportion of all asteroids that are of that type; some types are easier to detect than others, biasing the totals.
Originally, spectral designations were based on inferences of an asteroid's composition. However, the correspondence between spectral class and composition is not always very good, and a variety of classifications are in use. This has led to significant confusion. Although asteroids of different spectral classifications are likely to be composed of different materials, there are no assurances that asteroids within the same taxonomic class are composed of similar materials.
A newly discovered asteroid is given a provisional designation (such as 2002 AT4) consisting of the year of discovery and an alphanumeric code indicating the half-month of discovery and the sequence within that half-month. Once an asteroid's orbit has been confirmed, it is given a number, and later may also be given a name (e.g. 433 Eros). The formal naming convention uses parentheses around the number (e.g. (433) Eros), but dropping the parentheses is quite common. Informally, it is common to drop the number altogether, or to drop it after the first mention when a name is repeated in running text. In addition, names can be proposed by the asteroid's discoverer, within guidelines established by the International Astronomical Union.
The first asteroids to be discovered were assigned iconic symbols like the ones traditionally used to designate the planets. By 1855 there were two dozen asteroid symbols, which often occurred in multiple variants.
|1 Ceres||⚳||Ceres' scythe, reversed to double as the letter C||1801|
|2 Pallas||⚴||Athena's (Pallas') spear||1801|
|3 Juno||⚵||A star mounted on a scepter, for Juno, the Queen of Heaven||1804|
|4 Vesta||⚶||The altar and sacred fire of Vesta||1807|
|5 Astraea||A scale, or an inverted anchor, symbols of justice||1845|
|6 Hebe||Hebe's cup||1847|
|7 Iris||A rainbow (iris) and a star||1847|
|8 Flora||A flower (flora), specifically the Rose of England||1847|
|9 Metis||The eye of wisdom and a star||1848|
|10 Hygiea||Hygiea's serpent and a star, or the Rod of Asclepius||1849|
|11 Parthenope||A harp, or a fish and a star; symbols of the sirens||1850|
|12 Victoria||The laurels of victory and a star||1850|
|13 Egeria||A shield, symbol of Egeria's protection, and a star||1850|
|14 Irene||A dove carrying an olive branch (symbol of irene 'peace')
with a star on its head, or an olive branch, a flag of truce, and a star
|15 Eunomia||A heart, symbol of good order (eunomia), and a star||1851|
|16 Psyche||A butterfly's wing, symbol of the soul (psyche), and a star||1852|
|17 Thetis||A dolphin, symbol of Thetis, and a star||1852|
|18 Melpomene||The dagger of Melpomene, and a star||1852|
|19 Fortuna||The wheel of fortune and a star||1852|
|26 Proserpina||Proserpina's pomegranate||1853|
|28 Bellona||Bellona's whip and lance||1854|
|29 Amphitrite||The shell of Amphitrite and a star||1854|
|35 Leukothea||A lighthouse beacon, symbol of Leucothea||1855|
|37 Fides||The cross of faith (fides)||1855|
In 1851, after the fifteenth asteroid (Eunomia) had been discovered, Johann Franz Encke made a major change in the upcoming 1854 edition of the Berliner Astronomisches Jahrbuch (BAJ, Berlin Astronomical Yearbook). He introduced a disk (circle), a traditional symbol for a star, as the generic symbol for an asteroid. The circle was then numbered in order of discovery to indicate a specific asteroid (although he assigned ① to the fifth, Astraea, while continuing to designate the first four only with their existing iconic symbols). The numbered-circle convention was quickly adopted by astronomers, and the next asteroid to be discovered (16 Psyche, in 1852) was the first to be designated in that way at the time of its discovery. However, Psyche was given an iconic symbol as well, as were a few other asteroids discovered over the next few years (see chart above). 20 Massalia was the first asteroid that was not assigned an iconic symbol, and no iconic symbols were created after the 1855 discovery of 37 Fides.[note 8] That year Astraea's number was increased to ⑤, but the first four asteroids, Ceres to Vesta, were not listed by their numbers until the 1867 edition. The circle was soon abbreviated to a pair of parentheses, which were easier to typeset and sometimes omitted altogether over the next few decades, leading to the modern convention.
Until the age of space travel, objects in the asteroid belt were merely pinpricks of light in even the largest telescopes and their shapes and terrain remained a mystery. The best modern ground-based telescopes and the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope can resolve a small amount of detail on the surfaces of the largest asteroids, but even these mostly remain little more than fuzzy blobs. Limited information about the shapes and compositions of asteroids can be inferred from their light curves (their variation in brightness as they rotate) and their spectral properties, and asteroid sizes can be estimated by timing the lengths of star occulations (when an asteroid passes directly in front of a star). Radar imaging can yield good information about asteroid shapes and orbital and rotational parameters, especially for near-Earth asteroids. In terms of delta-v and propellant requirements, NEOs are more easily accessible than the Moon.
The first close-up photographs of asteroid-like objects were taken in 1971, when the Mariner 9 probe imaged Phobos and Deimos, the two small moons of Mars, which are probably captured asteroids. These images revealed the irregular, potato-like shapes of most asteroids, as did later images from the Voyager probes of the small moons of the gas giants.
In September 2007, NASA launched the Dawn spacecraft, which orbited 4 Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012, and has been orbiting the dwarf planet 1 Ceres since 2015. 4 Vesta is the second-largest asteroid visited to date.
In June 2018, the US National Science and Technology Council warned that America is unprepared for an asteroid impact event, and has developed and released the "National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy Action Plan" to better prepare.
In May 2011, NASA selected the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission to asteroid 101955 Bennu; it launched on 8 September 2016. Its arrival at Bennu was planned for December 2018, but by that fall it was close enough to image the asteroid in reasonable detail.
In early 2013, NASA announced the planning stages of a mission to capture a near-Earth asteroid and move it into lunar orbit where it could possibly be visited by astronauts and later impacted into the Moon. On 19 June 2014, NASA reported that asteroid 2011 MD was a prime candidate for capture by a robotic mission, perhaps in the early 2020s.
It has been suggested that asteroids might be used as a source of materials that may be rare or exhausted on Earth (asteroid mining), or materials for constructing space habitats (see Colonization of the asteroids). Materials that are heavy and expensive to launch from Earth may someday be mined from asteroids and used for space manufacturing and construction.
Location of Ceres (within asteroid belt) compared to other bodies of the Solar System
Asteroids and the asteroid belt are a staple of science fiction stories. Asteroids play several potential roles in science fiction: as places human beings might colonize, resources for extracting minerals, hazards encountered by spacecraft traveling between two other points, and as a threat to life on Earth or other inhabited planets, dwarf planets, and natural satellites by potential impact.
We include Trojans (bodies captured in Jupiter's 4th and 5th Lagrange points), Centaurs (bodies in orbit between Jupiter and Neptune), and trans-Neptunian objects (orbiting beyond Neptune) in our definition of "asteroid" as used on this site, even though they may more correctly be called "minor planets" instead of asteroids.
Two years ago, NASA dismissed and mocked an amateur's criticisms of its asteroids database. Now Nathan Myhrvold is back, and his papers have passed peer review.
Meteoroid: A solid object moving in space, with a size less than 10 m, but larger than 100 μm.
Further information about asteroids
99942 Apophis (, previously known by its provisional designation 2004 MN4) is a 370-meter diameter near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a probability of up to 2.7% that it would hit Earth on April 13, 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029. However, until 2006, a possibility remained that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a small region no more than about 0.5 mile wide, or 0.8 km that would set up a future impact exactly seven years later on April 13, 2036. This possibility kept it at Level 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale until August 2006, when the probability that Apophis would pass through the keyhole was determined to be very small. By 2008, the keyhole had been determined to be less than 1 km wide. During the short time when it had been of greatest concern, Apophis set the record for highest rating on the Torino scale, reaching level 4 on 27 December 2004.As of 2014, the diameter of Apophis is estimated to be approximately 370 metres (1,210 ft). Preliminary observations by Goldstone radar in January 2013 effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036. By May 6, 2013 (April 15, 2013 observation arc), the probability of an impact on April 13, 2036 had been eliminated. Using observations through February 26, 2014, the odds of an impact on April 12, 2068, as calculated by the JPL Sentry risk table are 1 in 150,000. As of February 2019, there were five asteroids with a more notable cumulative Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale than Apophis. On average, one asteroid the size of Apophis (370 metres) can be expected to impact Earth about every 80,000 years.Asteroid belt
The asteroid belt is the circumstellar disc in the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets. The asteroid belt is also termed the main asteroid belt or main belt to distinguish it from other asteroid populations in the Solar System such as near-Earth asteroids and trojan asteroids. About half the mass of the belt is contained in the four largest asteroids: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. The total mass of the asteroid belt is approximately 4% that of the Moon, or 22% that of Pluto, and roughly twice that of Pluto's moon Charon (whose diameter is 1200 km).
Ceres, the asteroid belt's only dwarf planet, is about 950 km in diameter, whereas 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, and 10 Hygiea have mean diameters of less than 600 km. The remaining bodies range down to the size of a dust particle. The asteroid material is so thinly distributed that numerous unmanned spacecraft have traversed it without incident. Nonetheless, collisions between large asteroids do occur, and these can produce an asteroid family whose members have similar orbital characteristics and compositions. Individual asteroids within the asteroid belt are categorized by their spectra, with most falling into three basic groups: carbonaceous (C-type), silicate (S-type), and metal-rich (M-type).
The asteroid belt formed from the primordial solar nebula as a group of planetesimals. Planetesimals are the smaller precursors of the protoplanets. Between Mars and Jupiter, however, gravitational perturbations from Jupiter imbued the protoplanets with too much orbital energy for them to accrete into a planet. Collisions became too violent, and instead of fusing together, the planetesimals and most of the protoplanets shattered. As a result, 99.9% of the asteroid belt's original mass was lost in the first 100 million years of the Solar System's history. Some fragments eventually found their way into the inner Solar System, leading to meteorite impacts with the inner planets. Asteroid orbits continue to be appreciably perturbed whenever their period of revolution about the Sun forms an orbital resonance with Jupiter. At these orbital distances, a Kirkwood gap occurs as they are swept into other orbits.Classes of small Solar System bodies in other regions are the near-Earth objects, the centaurs, the Kuiper belt objects, the scattered disc objects, the sednoids, and the Oort cloud objects.
On 22 January 2014, ESA scientists reported the detection, for the first definitive time, of water vapor on Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. The detection was made by using the far-infrared abilities of the Herschel Space Observatory. The finding was unexpected because comets, not asteroids, are typically considered to "sprout jets and plumes". According to one of the scientists, "The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids."Asteroid family
An asteroid family is a population of asteroids that share similar proper orbital elements, such as semimajor axis, eccentricity, and orbital inclination. The members of the families are thought to be fragments of past asteroid collisions. An asteroid family is a more specific term than asteroid group whose members, while sharing some broad orbital characteristics, may be otherwise unrelated to each other.Asteroid spectral types
An asteroid spectral type is assigned to asteroids based on their emission spectrum, color, and sometimes albedo. These types are thought to correspond to an asteroid's surface composition. For small bodies that are not internally differentiated, the surface and internal compositions are presumably similar, while large bodies such as Ceres and Vesta are known to have internal structure. Over the years, there has been a number of surveys that resulted in a set of different taxonomic systems such as the Tholen, SMASS and Bus–DeMeo classification.Aten asteroid
The Aten asteroids are a dynamical group of asteroids whose orbits bring them into proximity with Earth. By definition, Atens are Earth-crossing asteroids (a < 1.0 AU and Q > 0.983 AU). The group is named after 2062 Aten, the first of its kind, discovered on 7 January 1976 by American astronomer Eleanor Helin at Palomar Observatory. As of 2019, 1490 Atens have been discovered, of which 12 are named. Many Atens are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids.C-type asteroid
C-type (carbonaceous) asteroids are the most common variety, forming around 75% of known asteroids. They are distinguished by a very low albedo because their composition includes a large amount of carbon, in addition to rocks and minerals. They occur most frequently at the outer edge of the asteroid belt, 3.5 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, where 80% of the asteroids are of this type, whereas only 40% of asteroids at 2 AU from the Sun are C-type. The proportion of C-types may actually be greater than this, because C-types are much darker (and therefore less detectable) than most other asteroid types except for D-types and others that are mostly at the extreme outer edge of the asteroid belt.Ceres (dwarf planet)
Ceres (; minor-planet designation: 1 Ceres) is the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, slightly closer to Mars's orbit. With a diameter of 945 km (587 mi), Ceres is the largest of the minor planets and the only dwarf planet inside Neptune's orbit. It is the 33rd-largest known body in the Solar System.Ceres is composed of rock and ice, and contains approximately one-third of the mass of the entire asteroid belt. Ceres is the only object in the asteroid belt known to be rounded by its own gravity, although detailed analysis was required to exclude Vesta. From Earth, the apparent magnitude of Ceres ranges from 6.7 to 9.3, peaking once at opposition every 15 to 16 months, which is its synodic period. Thus even at its brightest, it is too dim to be seen by the naked eye, except under extremely dark skies.
Ceres was the first asteroid to be discovered (by Giuseppe Piazzi at Palermo Astronomical Observatory on 1 January 1801). It was originally considered a planet, but was reclassified as an asteroid in the 1850s after many other objects in similar orbits were discovered.
Ceres appears to be differentiated into a rocky core and an icy mantle, and may have a remnant internal ocean of liquid water under the layer of ice. The surface is a mixture of water ice and various hydrated minerals such as carbonates and clay. In January 2014, emissions of water vapor were detected from several regions of Ceres. This was unexpected because large bodies in the asteroid belt typically do not emit vapor, a hallmark of comets.
The robotic NASA spacecraft Dawn entered orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015. Pictures with a resolution previously unattained were taken during imaging sessions starting in January 2015 as Dawn approached Ceres, showing a cratered surface. Two distinct bright spots (or high-albedo features) inside a crater (different from the bright spots observed in earlier Hubble images) were seen in a 19 February 2015 image, leading to speculation about a possible cryovolcanic origin or outgassing. On 3 March 2015, a NASA spokesperson said the spots are consistent with highly reflective materials containing ice or salts, but that cryovolcanism is unlikely. However, on 2 September 2016, scientists from the Dawn team claimed in a Science paper that a massive cryovolcano called Ahuna Mons is the strongest evidence yet for the existence of these mysterious formations. On 11 May 2015, NASA released a higher-resolution image showing that, instead of one or two spots, there are actually several. On 9 December 2015, NASA scientists reported that the bright spots on Ceres may be related to a type of salt, particularly a form of brine containing magnesium sulfate hexahydrite (MgSO4·6H2O); the spots were also found to be associated with ammonia-rich clays. In June 2016, near-infrared spectra of these bright areas were found to be consistent with a large amount of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), implying that recent geologic activity was probably involved in the creation of the bright spots. In July 2018, NASA released a comparison of physical features found on Ceres with similar ones present on Earth. From June to October 2018, Dawn orbited Ceres from as close as 35 km (22 mi) and as far away as 4,000 km (2,500 mi). The Dawn mission ended on 1 November 2018 after the spacecraft ran out of fuel.
In October 2015, NASA released a true-color portrait of Ceres made by Dawn. In February 2017, organics (tholins) were detected on Ceres in Ernutet crater (see image).Impact event
An impact event is a collision between astronomical objects causing measurable effects. Impact events have physical consequences and have been found to regularly occur in planetary systems, though the most frequent involve asteroids, comets or meteoroids and have minimal effect. When large objects impact terrestrial planets such as the Earth, there can be significant physical and biospheric consequences, though atmospheres mitigate many surface impacts through atmospheric entry. Impact craters and structures are dominant landforms on many of the Solar System's solid objects and present the strongest empirical evidence for their frequency and scale.
Impact events appear to have played a significant role in the evolution of the Solar System since its formation. Major impact events have significantly shaped Earth's history, have been implicated in the formation of the Earth–Moon system, the evolutionary history of life, the origin of water on Earth and several mass extinctions. The famous prehistoric Chicxulub impact, 66 million years ago, is believed to be the cause of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.Throughout recorded history, hundreds of Earth impacts (and exploding bolides) have been reported, with some occurrences causing deaths, injuries, property damage, or other significant localised consequences. One of the best-known recorded events in modern times was the Tunguska event, which occurred in Siberia, Russia, in 1908. The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor event is the only known such incident in modern times to result in a large number of injuries, excluding the 1490 Ch'ing-yang event in China. The Chelyabinsk meteor is the largest recorded object to have encountered the Earth since the Tunguska event.
The Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 impact provided the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of Solar System objects, when the comet broke apart and collided with Jupiter in July 1994. An extrasolar impact was observed in 2013, when a massive terrestrial planet impact was detected around the star ID8 in the star cluster NGC 2547 by NASA's Spitzer space telescope and confirmed by ground observations. Impact events have been a plot and background element in science fiction.
In April 2018, the B612 Foundation reported "It’s 100 per cent certain we’ll be hit [by a devastating asteroid], but we’re not 100 per cent certain when." Also in 2018, physicist Stephen Hawking, in his final book Brief Answers to the Big Questions, considered an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet. In June 2018, the US National Science and Technology Council warned that America is unprepared for an asteroid impact event, and has developed and released the "National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy Action Plan" to better prepare. According to expert testimony in the United States Congress in 2013, NASA would require at least five years of preparation before a mission to intercept an asteroid could be launched.Jupiter trojan
The Jupiter trojans, commonly called Trojan asteroids or simply Trojans, are a large group of asteroids that share the planet Jupiter's orbit around the Sun. Relative to Jupiter, each Trojan librates around one of Jupiter's two stable Lagrange points: L4, lying 60° ahead of the planet in its orbit, and L5, 60° behind. Jupiter trojans are distributed in two elongated, curved regions around these Lagrangian points with an average semi-major axis of about 5.2 AU.The first Jupiter trojan discovered, 588 Achilles, was spotted in 1906 by German astronomer Max Wolf. A total of 7,040 Jupiter trojans have been found as of October 2018. By convention, they are each named from Greek mythology after a figure of the Trojan War, hence the name "Trojan". The total number of Jupiter trojans larger than 1 km in diameter is believed to be about 1 million, approximately equal to the number of asteroids larger than 1 km in the asteroid belt. Like main-belt asteroids, Jupiter trojans form families.Jupiter trojans are dark bodies with reddish, featureless spectra. No firm evidence of the presence of water, or any other specific compound on their surface has been obtained, but it is thought that they are coated in tholins, organic polymers formed by the Sun's radiation. The Jupiter trojans' densities (as measured by studying binaries or rotational lightcurves) vary from 0.8 to 2.5 g·cm−3. Jupiter trojans are thought to have been captured into their orbits during the early stages of the Solar System's formation or slightly later, during the migration of giant planets.The term "Trojan Asteroid" specifically refers to the asteroids co-orbital with Jupiter, but the general term "trojan" is sometimes more generally applied to other small Solar System bodies with similar relationships to larger bodies: for example, there are both Mars trojans and Neptune trojans, as well as a recently-discovered Earth trojan. The term "Trojan asteroid" is normally understood to specifically mean the Jupiter trojans because the first Trojans were discovered near Jupiter's orbit and Jupiter currently has by far the most known Trojans.Light curve
In astronomy, a light curve is a graph of light intensity of a celestial object or region, as a function of time. The light is usually in a particular frequency interval or band. Light curves can be periodic, as in the case of eclipsing binaries, Cepheid variables, other periodic variables, and transiting extrasolar planets, or aperiodic, like the light curve of a nova, a cataclysmic variable star, a supernova or a microlensing event or binary as observed during occultation events. The study of the light curve, together with other observations, can yield considerable information about the physical process that produces it or constrain the physical theories about it.Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research
The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project is a collaboration of the United States Air Force, NASA, and the MIT's Lincoln Laboratory for the systematic detection and tracking of near-Earth objects. LINEAR was responsible for the majority of asteroid discoveries from 1998 until it was overtaken by the Catalina Sky Survey in 2005. As of 15 September 2011, LINEAR had detected 231,082 new small Solar System bodies, of which at least 2,423 were near-Earth asteroids and 279 were comets. The instruments used by the LINEAR program are located at Lincoln Laboratory's Experimental Test Site (ETS) on the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) near Socorro, New Mexico.List of Solar System objects by size
This is a partial list of Solar System objects by size, arranged in descending order of mean volumetric radius, and subdivided into several size classes. These lists can also be sorted according to an object's mass and, for the largest objects, volume, density and surface gravity, insofar as these values are available. This list contains the Sun, the planets, dwarf planets, many of the larger small Solar System bodies (which includes the asteroids), all named natural satellites, and a number of smaller objects of historical or scientific interest, such as comets and near-Earth objects.
The ordering may be different depending on whether one chooses radius or mass, because some objects are denser than others. For instance, Uranus is larger than Neptune but less massive, and although Ganymede and Titan are larger than Mercury, they have less than half Mercury's mass. This means some objects in the lower tables, despite their smaller radii, may be more massive than objects in the upper tables because they have a higher density.
Many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) have been discovered, and their approximate locations in this list are shown, even though there can be a large uncertainty in their measurement.
Solar System objects more massive than 1021 kilograms (one yottagram [Yg]) are known or expected to be approximately spherical. Astronomical bodies relax into rounded shapes (ellipsoids), achieving hydrostatic equilibrium, when the gravity of their mass is sufficient to overcome the structural strength of their material. Objects made of ice become round more easily than those made of rock, and many icy objects are spheroidal at far lower sizes. The cutoff boundary for roundness is somewhere between 100 km and 200 km in radius.The larger objects in the mass range between 1018 kg to 1021 kg (1 to 1000 zettagrams [Zg]), such as Tethys, Ceres, and Mimas, have relaxed to an oblate-spheroid equilibrium due to their gravity, whereas the less massive rubble piles (e.g. Amalthea and Janus) are roughly rounded, but not spherical, dubbed "irregular".
Spheroidal bodies typically have some polar flattening due to the centrifugal force from their rotation, and can sometimes even have quite different equatorial diameters (scalene ellipsoids such as Haumea). Unlike bodies such as Haumea, the irregular bodies deviate significantly from the shape of an ellipsoid.
There can be difficulty in determining the diameter (within a factor of about 2) for typical objects beyond Saturn. (See 2060 Chiron as an example.) For TNOs there is some confidence in the diameters, but for non-binary TNOs there is no real confidence in the masses/densities. Many TNOs are often just assumed to have Pluto's density of 2.0 g/cm3, but it is just as likely that they have a comet-like density of only 0.5 g/cm3. For example, if a TNO is poorly assumed to have a mass of 3.59×1020 kg based on a radius of 350 km with a density of 2 g/cm3 and is later discovered to only have a radius of 175 km with a density of 1 g/cm3, the mass estimate would be only 2.24×1019 kg.
The sizes and masses of many of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are fairly well known due to numerous observations and interactions of the Galileo and Cassini orbiters. But many of the moons with a radius less than ~100 km, such as Jupiter's Himalia, still have unknown masses. Again, as we get further from the Sun than Saturn, things get less clear. There has not yet been an orbiter around Uranus or Neptune for long-term study of their moons. For the small outer irregular moons of Uranus, such as Sycorax, which were not discovered by the Voyager 2 flyby, even different NASA web pages, such as the National Space Science Data Center and JPL Solar System Dynamics, have somewhat contradictory size and albedo estimates depending on which research paper is being cited.
Data for objects has varying reliability including uncertainties in the figures for mass and radius, and irregularities in the shape and density, with accuracy often depending on how close it is to Earth or whether it has been visited by a probe.List of minor-planet groups
A minor-planet group is a population of minor planets that share broadly similar orbits. Members are generally unrelated to each other, unlike in an asteroid family, which often results from the break-up of a single asteroid. It is customary to name a group of asteroids after the first member of that group to be discovered, which is often the largest.List of minor planets
The following is a list of numbered minor planets in numerical order. Minor planets are all small bodies in the Solar System, including dwarf planets, with the exception of comets. The catalog consists of hundreds of pages, each containing 1000 minor planets. Every year, tens of thousands of newly numbered minor planets are published in the Minor Planet Circular by the Minor Planet Center on behalf of the International Astronomical Union (see index). As of April 2019, there are 523,824 numbered minor planets (secured discoveries) out of a total of 789,069 observed bodies, with the remainder being unnumbered minor planets.The catalog's first object is 1 Ceres, discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi on January 1, 1801, while its best-known entry is Pluto, listed as 134340 Pluto. The vast majority (97%) of minor planets are asteroids from the asteroid belt (the catalog uses a color code to indicate a body's dynamical classification). There are more than a thousand different minor-planet discoverers observing from a growing list of registered observatories. In terms of numbers, the most prolific discoverers are LINEAR, Spacewatch, MLS, NEAT and CSS. There are also 21,348 named minor planets mostly after people, places and figures from mythology and fiction. Approximately 96% of all numbered catalog entries remain unnamed. (3708) 1974 FV1 and 518523 Bryanshumaker are currently the lowest-numbered unnamed and highest-numbered named minor planets, respectively.It is expected that the upcoming survey by the LSST will discover another 5 million minor planets during the next ten years—a tenfold increase from current numbers. While all asteroids with a diameter above 10 kilometers have already been discovered, there might be as many as 10 trillion 1-meter-sized asteroids or larger out to the orbit of Jupiter; and more than a trillion minor planets in the Kuiper belt of which hundreds are likely dwarf planets. For minor planets grouped by a particular aspect or property, see § Specific lists.Minor-planet moon
A minor-planet moon is an astronomical object that orbits a minor planet as its natural satellite. As of February 2019, there are 352 minor planets known or suspected to have moons. Discoveries of minor-planet moons (and binary objects, in general) are important because the determination of their orbits provides estimates on the mass and density of the primary, allowing insights of their physical properties that is generally not otherwise possible.The first modern era mention of the possibility of an asteroid satellite was in connection with an occultation of the bright star Gamma Ceti by the asteroid 6 Hebe in 1977. The observer, amateur astronomer Paul D. Maley, detected an unmistakable 0.5 second disappearance of this naked eye star from a site near Victoria, Texas. Many hours later, several observations were reported in Mexico attributed to the occultation by 6 Hebe itself. Although not confirmed, this documents the first formally documented case of a suspected companion of an asteroid.Near-Earth object
A near-Earth object (NEO) is any small Solar System body whose orbit brings it to proximity with Earth. By convention, a Solar System body is a NEO if its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) is less than 1.3 astronomical units (AU). If a NEO's orbit crosses the Earth's and the object is larger than 140 meters (460 ft) across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO). Most known PHOs and NEOs are asteroids, but a small fraction are comets.There are over 19,000 known near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), over a hundred short-period near-Earth comets (NECs), and a number of solar-orbiting spacecraft and meteoroids large enough to be tracked in space before striking the Earth. It is now widely accepted that collisions in the past have had a significant role in shaping the geological and biological history of the Earth. NEOs have become of increased interest since the 1980s because of greater awareness of the potential danger some of the asteroids or comets pose. When impacting the Earth, asteroids as small as 20 m cause sufficiently strong shock waves and heat to damage the local environment and populations. Larger asteroids penetrate the atmosphere to the surface of the Earth, producing craters if they hit ground and tsunamis if water bodies are hit. It is in principle possible to deflect asteroids, and methods of mitigation are being researched.Based on the orbit calculations of identified NEOs, their risk of future impact is assessed on two scales, the Torino scale and the more complex Palermo scale, both of which rate a risk of any significance with values above 0. Some NEOs have had temporarily positive Torino or Palermo scale ratings after their discovery, but as of March 2018, more precise calculations based on subsequent observations led to a reduction of the rating to or below 0 in all cases.Since 1998, the United States, the European Union, and other nations are scanning for NEOs in an effort called Spaceguard. The initial US Congress mandate to NASA of cataloging at least 90% of NEOs that are at least 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) in diameter, which would cause a global catastrophe in case of an impact with Earth, had been met by 2011. In later years, the survey effort has been expanded to objects as small as about 140 m (460 ft) across, which still have the potential for large-scale, though not global, damage.
NEOs have low surface gravity, and many have Earth-like orbits making them easy targets for spacecraft. As of January 2019, five near-Earth comets and five near-Earth asteroids have been visited by spacecraft. Two near-Earth asteroids are being orbited by spacecraft that will return asteroid samples back to Earth. Plans for commercial asteroid mining have been drafted by private companies.S-type asteroid
S-type asteroids are asteroids with a spectral type that is indicative of a siliceous (i.e. stony) mineralogical composition, hence the name. Approximately 17% of asteroids are of this type, making it the second most common after the carbonaceous C-type.Solar System
The Solar System is the gravitationally bound planetary system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly. Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest are the eight planets, with the remainder being smaller objects, such as the five dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. Of the objects that orbit the Sun indirectly—the moons—two are larger than the smallest planet, Mercury.The Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.
The Solar System also contains smaller objects. The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, mostly contains objects composed, like the terrestrial planets, of rock and metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc, which are populations of trans-Neptunian objects composed mostly of ices, and beyond them a newly discovered population of sednoids. Within these populations are several dozen to possibly tens of thousands of objects large enough that they have been rounded by their own gravity. Such objects are categorized as dwarf planets. Identified dwarf planets include the asteroid Ceres and the trans-Neptunian objects Pluto and Eris. In addition to these two regions, various other small-body populations, including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust clouds, freely travel between regions. Six of the planets, at least four of the dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites, usually termed "moons" after the Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other small objects.
The solar wind, a stream of charged particles flowing outwards from the Sun, creates a bubble-like region in the interstellar medium known as the heliosphere. The heliopause is the point at which pressure from the solar wind is equal to the opposing pressure of the interstellar medium; it extends out to the edge of the scattered disc. The Oort cloud, which is thought to be the source for long-period comets, may also exist at a distance roughly a thousand times further than the heliosphere. The Solar System is located in the Orion Arm, 26,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.Standard asteroid physical characteristics
For the majority of numbered asteroids, almost nothing is known apart from a few physical parameters and orbital elements and some physical characteristics are often only estimated. The physical data is determined by making certain standard assumptions.
The Solar System
Solar System → Local Interstellar Cloud → Local Bubble → Gould Belt → Orion Arm → Milky Way → Milky Way subgroup → Local Group → Local Sheet → Virgo Supercluster → Laniakea Supercluster → Observable universe → Universe
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