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Asteroids – Giant Balls of Light Streaking Across the Sky

By Julie Hammel

Asteroid Astronomy is one of the most exciting sciences due to numerous celestial phenomena that are simply awesome and beautiful to see. Not only that, the universe as a whole is a mysterious fact that may never be fully explained by science. There are new discoveries such as the existence of distant galaxies and black holes that are constantly revealed by space exploration programs. The reason why we are so fascinated by these celestial objects is because many of them pose as threats to our human existence. Whatever cataclysm that occurs far away can cause destruction to our planet.

Most of these strange occurrences happen in extremely long distances from Earth and are too far away to cause a catastrophe. However, there are some that are relatively near to us. Among these are the asteroids which are large rocks, having a diameter that can reach miles. These celestial objects have become the talk of the town by astronomers, soothsayers, and the public due to fears that if just one of them strikes us, the human race will be wiped out. Scientists are still looking for evidence that support the theory about the extinction of dinosaurs caused by huge asteroid impacts.

It is very important to separate the facts from fiction regarding asteroids. By virtue of popular culture as represented by science fiction books and movies, one of the wildest ideas is that these space objects are allegedly used by aliens to dominate our world. Certain forms of extraterrestrial life are suspected to be found in impact zones, spawning a strange epidemic and causing havoc to humans. However, the most popular concept is asteroids hitting Earth and using our latest technological advances to avert the said disaster.

In order to allay our fears, the scientific community is always conducting research on the nature and composition of these celestial bodies. Their studies have helped us understand the truth about asteroids. These are actually debris that can range from a golf ball up to gigantic rocks as large as continents. Since they have no particular orbits unlike planets and moons, they can and have many times actually struck our planet. Nevertheless, the ones that have penetrated our Earth’s atmosphere are called meteorites and these are typically small. Some are known as meteors because they have been thoroughly burned and have totally turned to dust. The chances of a direct hit from a giant asteroid are relatively small, but astronomers are not taking this fact for granted. By using giant telescopes that are strategically placed in different sites around the world, they constantly observe the heavens for tell-tale signs of asteroids that may stray into a dangerous collision path with our planet.

Asteroid belt Another fact is that an asteroid belt exists between Mars and Jupiter. This is where most asteroids come from. Astronomers have separated these into classes based on their material composition and proximity to the said planets. Those that are the nearest to Mars belong to the Class S, while the ones that are closest to Jupiter are known as Classes C, D, and V. The latter classes are called Centaur asteroids and they have particular material compositions and are known to drift the vast space from Jupiter to Uranus. To gain a first-hand look at these celestial behemoths, scientists have sent space probes to fly near them. The asteroid called Ida was observed by the probe Galileo from a distance of approximately 1,000 miles and was found to have its own moon. Some probes have actually landed on asteroids and have sent amazing photographs for us to enjoy.

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