The Difference Between Meteors, Comets, and Asteroids
Many people wonder what the difference is between a comet, an asteroid and a meteor.
This article will help you to understand which ones orbit around the sun, which leave trails of space dust behind them, and which ones land on Earth.
Comets, asteroids, and meteoroids are very similar in the way that they all float through space and usually orbit around the sun. The major differences between them include size, whether they have tails, and their position in space.
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What is a Comet?
A comet is a small, spherical body that orbits around the sun, much like our planet. Most comets are about 10 miles in diameter and can be much bigger.
Unlike other planets, their orbit is much more elliptical and less circular.
When a comet is near the sun, it has a trail behind it that scientists call a "coma". This illusion is caused by the gasses that surround the comet (much like its own atmosphere). As the comet travels through space, these gasses as well as dust are pulled off of the comet by solar wind.
Famous comets include Halley's Comet and the Hale-Bopp Comet. Halley's Comet is visible to the naked, human eye and can be seen every 75-76 years. The comet was named after Edmond Halley, who figured out how frequent we would see the comet.
The Hale-Bopp comet (or Great Comet) is the brightest comet known to man. It was discovered in 1995, but later was speculated to be seen by ancient Egyptians. Hieroglyphics indicate that there was a bright star (nhh-star) that accompanied the dead pharaoh to heaven.
What is a Meteor?
A meteor is a meteoroid that has entered the Earth's atmosphere. A meteoroid is a small rock (less than ten yards in circumference) that float in our solar system.
Once the meteoroid enters Earth's atmosphere, it burns off a layer of minerals and becomes a meteor.
Meteors that hit or land on the Earth's surface are then referred to as meteorites.
Meteor showers are popular events that happen multiple times throughout the year. These showers are often thought to happen due to asteroids or just a strange group of meteoroids passing the Earth, but meteoroids do not behave that way. And remember, a "meteor" is something that has passed through our atmosphere.
A meteor shower is caused by a coma of a comet. If a large comet travels through the path of the Earth's orbit, the Earth must then travel through it on its rotation around the sun. The debris from the comet then passes through our atmosphere and burns up, creating a meteor shower that we can see with the naked eye.
Trojan Asteroid Orbiting Jupiter
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What is an Asteroid?
An asteroid is a larger meteoroid that orbits the sun in our solar system. Because of their size and behavior, people sometimes refer to them as "minor planets".
Asteroids are made up of rock and sometimes metal debris that has clumped together over time.
Asteroids also have "comas" or tails that trail behind them.
Most asteroids are found in the asteroid belt, which orbits around the sun between Jupiter and Mars. When an asteroid begins to orbit around a planet, like Jupiter, it is called a Trojan Asteroid.
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