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What are Asteroids?


Artist\’s depiction of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Credit: David Minton and Renu Malhotra

Asteroids have been fascinating scientists for hundreds of years. The first asteroid to be discovered was Ceres, in 1801. Since then literally tens of thousands of asteroids have been observed flying willy-nilly across our solar System.

In 2004 the near Earth asteroids really came into the public eye because the asteroid Apophis was thought to potentially impact the Earth. That is not really a news-worthy event in itself because several tiny asteroids impact the Earth’s atmosphere each year. What made Apophis stand out was its size. At 270 meters, scientists estimate that the asteroid could have destroyed up to 25% of the life on our planet.

In addition to scaring the average Joe, asteroids offer many scientific benefits. Much of what we know about space has been garnered from studying the metal and other content of asteroids that have impacted the Earth’s surface. Scientists have even managed to revive a bacteria form from a meteorite that is thought to have originated from Mars.

There are some scientists and industrialists that point a future where all of the metals and ores on this planet will be exhausted. They look towards the heavens and envision a time when there will be miners on the largest asteroids extracting the minerals, metals, and perhaps the water that the civilizations on Earth will desperately need to continue their existence.

Below is a very long list of links to articles about asteroids in general, asteroid related events in history, and some specific asteroids. Many hours of research are waiting for you. Enjoy!


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