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Asteroids - Mini-Planets

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Space is a rocky place. The biggest space rocks are asteroids. Asteroids are made up of rock and iron like the four planets closest to our Sun. They are different from comets, which are mostly rock and ice. Comets have tails. Asteroids are more like planets and moons. Scientists often call asteroids minor planets.

Some asteroids even have moons. When the Galileo spacecraft flew past asteroid Ida in 1993, scientists were surprised to find it had a little buddy. They named the tiny moon Dactyl.

Most asteroids orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. This area is called the asteroid belt. There are millions of asteroids. The biggest asteroid is Ceres. It is about 600 miles (960 km) around. It was the first asteroid discovered, probably because it was the easiest to see. Asteroids are not easy to spot because they often look like very dark blobs against the darkness of outer space.

Challenge Graphic
ASTEROID CHALLENGE Find out why don't asteroids break out of the 'belt' and crash into Earth and other planets. Start your research here.

NEAR Shoemaker
Missions to Asteroids
Featured Mission: NEAR Shoemaker
On Feb. 12, 2000, flight controllers gently landed NASA's NEAR spacecraft on asteroid Eros. It was the first controlled landing on an asteroid.
More Missions to Asteroids
Past Missions
Present Missions
Go Figure!
1801
Year Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the first asteroid, Ceres.
4.6
Earth years it takes the asteroid Ceres to travel around the sun.
2880
Year asteroid 1950 DA will pass close to Earth - the greatest known impact hazard.
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Last Updated: 13 May 2014