What’s the difference between asteroids, comets and meteors? These space rocks each have their own unique attributes. But differences aside, these fascinating objects are all worthy of study. Just ask NASAEstablished in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It’s vision is “To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.””>NASA JPLThe Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network. JPL implements programs in planetary exploration, Earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development, while applying its capabilities to technical and scientific problems of national significance.”>JPL scientist Ryan Park and he’ll agree.
Well, they’re all planetary objects orbiting the Sun. An asteroid is a small, rocky object and when seen in a telescope, it appears as a point of light. Most asteroids are found in a ring between the orbit of MarsMars is the second smallest planet in our solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. Iron oxide is prevalent in Mars’ surface resulting in its reddish color and its nickname “The Red Planet.” Mars’ name comes from the Roman god of war.”>Mars and JupiterJupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. It is a gas giant with a mass greater then all of the other planets combined. Its name comes from the Roman god Jupiter.”>Jupiter called the asteroid belt.
Some asteroids are round, some are elongated, and some even have a satellite. A comet also orbits the Sun, but unlike an asteroid, it’s composed of ice and dust. So, when a comet gets close to the Sun, its ice and dust content start to vaporize. So, when seen in a telescope, a comet appears fuzzy and/or has a tail.
So, what’s a meteor? Well, let’s start with a meteoroid. A meteoroid is a small piece of asteroid or a comet, typically pebble-sized, but could be a little smaller or a little larger, and often created from a collision.. When a meteoroid gets close to the Earth and enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. And a meteor enters the Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed. So it burns up and produces a streak of light called a shooting star. So, if you have seen a shooting star, you likely saw a meteor. And if a meteor survives the burn and lands on the ground, it’s called a meteorite.
So, what’s the difference between asteroids, comets, and meteors? Well, asteroids are rocky, comets are icy, and meteors are much smaller and are the shooting stars that you see up in the sky.