Asteroid and meteorite difference: NASA reveals how to distinguish space rocks

Asteroids and meteorites were both once parts of planets. These space rocks are now all that remains of the former structures which have undergone some form of ancient interspace destruction. Both asteroids and meteors are floating around in space, occasionally being attracted by gravitational fields and colliding with other objects. However, the difference between the two depends on how close they approach the Earth.

What is an asteroid?

The difference between the two depends on how close they are to Earth’s surface


Asteroids are rocky or metallic chunks in orbit around earth more than 10m (32ft) in diameter.

An example of a large collection of asteroids is the asteroid belt that surrounds Mars and Jupiter, which boasts more than 750,000 asteroids.

However, asteroids can also be found all over the solar system, with some orbiting the Sun in a path taking them close to Earth.

As asteroids’ size grow, the more impact power they pack, and it was an asteroid that was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

When asteroids collide with Earth’s surface, they leave craters, with South Africa’s giant Vredefort crater, one of the most imposing, stretching more than 186 miles (300km) across.

Space agencies such as NASA have been busy mapping many asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth.

However, there are still uncertainties, such as Asteroid 2019 OK that skimmed earth on July 25 this year.

2019 OK flew past Earth with less than one fifth the distance to the moon, shocking astronomers who learned about the asteroid merely hours beforehand.

Asteroid 2019 OK was the size of a boulder, traveling at the speeds of 54,000mph (86,904kph), capable of causing devastating destruction on Earth.

What are meteoroids and meteors?

Meteors are broken pieces of asteroids, meaning they are also mainly composed of metals and rock.

A space rock on a collision course with Earth needs to first travel through the planet’s atmosphere, which acts as a barrier against extraterrestrial visitors.

The friction between air and the meteor creates tremendous amounts of energy, vaporising the foreign entity and creating what we know as shooting stars.

Larger meteors, however, may not burn-up entirely and can reach the Earth’s surface.

Approximately 17 meteors hit the Earth’s surface every single day, but most go unnoticed because humans occupy only a fraction of the planet.

Such meteors that hit the earth surface are known as meteorites.

Meteorites are mainly composed of metal because most of the rock content vaporised early on in the atmosphere.

Some meteors explode once they are in our atmosphere due to the forces acting on them, with the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia, a notorious example.

Estimates suggest the Chelyabinsk explosion damaged more than 7,000 buildings, leaving 1,000 people injured.

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