4 Asteroids, Comets, and Meteoroids

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1 CHAPTER 28 4 Asteroids, Comets, and Meteoroids SECTION Minor Bodies of the Solar System KEY IDEAS As you read this section, keep these questions in mind: What are the physical characteristics of asteroids and comets? Where is the Kuiper Belt located? How do meteoroids, meteorites, and meteors differ? What is the relationship between the Oort cloud and comets? What Are Asteroids? Asteroids are chunks of rock that orbit the sun. Astronomers have discovered more than 300,000 asteroids, and they think that millions may exist. Like the orbits of planets, the orbits of asteroids are ellipses. READING TOOLBOX Compare After you read this section, create a three-way Venn diagram to compare asteroids, comets, and meteoroids. Some of the overlapping spaces in the diagram may be left blank. Asteroids vary greatly in size. Asteroid Ida is 56 km long. Asteroid Dactyl is 1.5 km across. 1. Identify On the picture, label which asteroid is Ida and which is Dactyl. LOCATION OF ASTEROIDS Most asteroids are located in a region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This region is called the asteroid belt. Some asteroids, however, orbit the sun more closely. The closest asteroids to the sun are located inside the orbit of Mars. The Trojan asteroids are groups of asteroids found near Jupiter. READING CHECK 2. Describe Where are most asteroids located? Holt McDougal Earth Science 451 Minor Bodies of the Solar System

2 3. Compare How is the appearance of a carbon asteroid different from the appearance of an iron and nickel asteroid? COMPOSITION OF ASTEROIDS The composition of an asteroid is similar to the composition of the inner planets. Scientists group asteroids into three main categories based on their main component. The table below describes these categories. The Main Categories of Asteroids Category (main component) Carbon Silicate minerals Iron and nickel Description the most common type of asteroid generally dark colored look like Earth rocks the rarest type of asteroid look shiny and metallic Critical Thinking 4. Connect Ideas When an asteroid collides with Earth, it produces effects similar to those of a large volcanic eruption. What is one way an asteroid impact might harm life on Earth? NEAR-EARTH ASTEROIDS More than 1,000 asteroids have orbits that sometimes bring the asteroids very close to Earth s orbit. Thus, scientists call them near-earth asteroids. Near-Earth asteroids make up only a very small percentage of the total number of asteroids. However, these asteroids could cause a great deal of damage if they struck Earth. Asteroid detection programs track asteroids whose orbits may bring them close to Earth. By monitoring these asteroids, scientists hope to predict and possibly avoid future collisions. Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona formed when a small asteroid with a diameter of only 50 m struck Earth. This impact happened 49,000 years ago. Asteroid impacts have produced dozens of craters on Earth. However, most craters have eroded, or sediments have covered them. Therefore, they are hard to see. Barringer Meteorite Crater, which is also called Meteor Crater, is the result of an asteroid impact. Holt McDougal Earth Science 452 Minor Bodies of the Solar System

3 What Are Comets? A comet is a small body of ice, rock, and dust that follows a highly elliptical orbit around the sun. One of the most famous comets is Halley s Comet, which passes by Earth every 76 years. It last passed Earth in Another comet, Hale-Bopp, is visible from Earth every 5 to 10 years. COMPOSITION OF COMETS A comet has several parts: a core (nucleus), a coma, and two tails. The core of a comet is made up of rock, metals, and ice. Comet cores are typically between 1 km and 100 km in diameter. The coma is a cloud of gas and dust that surrounds the core. A comet looks bright because the coma reflects sunlight. Together, the core and coma form the head of the comet. Solar energy causes ice in a comet to change to a gas. Solar winds push the gas off behind the comet, forming the gas tail, or ion tail. Thus, the ion tail of a comet points away from the sun. A comet s second tail, the dust tail, is made up of dust. The dust tail curves backward along the comet s orbit. Talk About It Connecting Ideas You have probably heard the word nucleus used in different contexts. With a partner, identify several uses of this term and talk about what these uses have in common. If you are unfamiliar with other uses of nucleus, look up the word in a dictionary. You could also use the glossaries of life science and physical science textbooks. The upper tail on this comet is the ion tail. The lower tail is the dust tail. 5. Apply Concepts On the diagram, draw an arrow to show the direction in which the sun lies. THE KUIPER BELT The Kuiper Belt is a region beyond Neptune s orbit. It forms a ring of dwarf planets and small icy bodies. The dwarf planets Pluto and Eris are located in the Kuiper Belt. Holt McDougal Earth Science 453 Minor Bodies of the Solar System

4 READING CHECK 6. Identify What is the Oort cloud? THE OORT CLOUD Astronomers think most comets come from the Oort cloud. The Oort cloud is a cloud of dust and ice that lies far beyond Neptune s orbit. It surrounds the solar system and contains the nuclei of billions of comets. Scientists think that the matter in the Oort cloud is left over from the formation of the solar system. Studying this matter helps scientist understand the history of the solar system. Bodies within the Oort cloud may take a few million years to complete one circular orbit. Comets follow elliptical paths that take them closer to the sun. Those that take more than 200 years to complete one orbit are called long-period comets. Comets that complete one orbit in less than 200 years are called short-period comets. Recently, scientists discovered that most shortperiod comets actually come from the Kuiper Belt. OORT CLOUD Orbit of long-period comet Kuiper Belt Orbit of Neptune Inner solar system Orbit of short-period comet 7. Identify On the diagram, circle the region that scientists think most shortperiod comets come from. Most comets come from the Oort cloud. The Oort cloud is located far beyond Neptune s orbit, in the outer parts of the solar system. What Are Meteoroids? Small bits of rock and metal called meteoroids also move through the solar system. Most meteoroids have a diameter less than 1 mm. Scientists think that most meteoroids are pieces of matter that broke off comets. Some comets may be pieces of asteroids. Holt McDougal Earth Science 454 Minor Bodies of the Solar System

5 METEORS Sometimes, meteoroids enter Earth s atmosphere. In Earth s atmosphere, friction between the meteoroid and the air heats the meteoroid. As a result, the meteoroid burns up. As the meteoroid burns, it produces a bright light called a meteor. Some people call meteors shooting stars. When many meteoroids enter Earth s atmosphere in a short time, a meteor shower occurs. METEORITES Most meteoroids that enter Earth s atmosphere burn up, but some larger meteoroids do not burn up completely. These meteoroids fall to Earth s surface. A meteoroid that hits Earth s surface is called a meteorite. Most meteorites are small. However, some meteorites strike Earth with the force of a large bomb. These impacts leave large craters. Scientists group meteorites into three categories. The table below describes these categories. READING CHECK 8. Describe How does a meteor form? The Main Categories of Meteorites Category Stony Iron Stony-iron Description similar in composition to rocks on Earth most common type of meteorite have a metallic appearance contain both iron and stone rarest type of meteorite Some stony meteorites contain carbon compounds. Iron meteorites look very different from most Earth rocks. Many stony-iron meteorites contain pieces of stone surrounded by iron. 9. Explain Iron meteorites are the easiest kind of meteorite to identify. What is the most likely reason for this? Holt McDougal Earth Science 455 Minor Bodies of the Solar System

6 Section 4 Review SECTION VOCABULARY asteroid a small, rocky object that orbits the sun; most asteroids are located in a band between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter comet a small body of rock, ice, and cosmic dust that follows an elliptical orbit around the sun and that gives off gas and dust in the form of a tail as it passes close to the sun Kuiper Belt a region of the solar system that starts just beyond the orbit of Neptune and that contains dwarf planets and other small bodies made mostly of ice meteor a bright streak of light that results when a meteoroid burns up in Earth s atmosphere meteoroid a relatively small, rocky body that travels through space Oort cloud a spherical region that surrounds the solar system, that extends from the Kuiper Belt to almost halfway to the nearest star, and that contains billions of comets 1. Compare Describe two differences between asteroids and comets. 2. Infer Could the ion tail of a comet ever point in the opposite direction from the dust tail? Explain your answer. 3. Describe List the following parts of the solar system from closest to the sun to farthest from the sun: Kuiper Belt, asteroid belt, Neptune, Oort cloud. 4. Apply Concepts Suppose astronomers discovered a comet that takes about 875 years to orbit the sun. Is the comet a short-period comet or a long-period comet? Where did it probably come from? 5. Identify Errors Your friend tells you that he found a meteor in his backyard. What is wrong with your friend s statement? Holt McDougal Earth Science 456 Minor Bodies of the Solar System

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