Are these items related? And what's the difference between an asteroid and a meteor? Let's define the terms:
: a rocky body with a regular orbit around the sun. Most commonly found in the zone between Mars & Jupiter called the Main Belt. There are asteroids in the Main Belt as large as 600 miles across.
: On average much smaller than asteroids. Typically the size of a pea or smaller. No regular orbit. Typically debris from a comet or asteroid.
: A shooting star. The period during which a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes. Refers to the light phenomena associated with intense heat and friction.
: A meteoroid that survives the intense heat of passing through the Earth's atmosphere. Once a meteor touches the ground it becomes a meteorite.
So the big differences are these:
Asteroids have regular and predictable orbits.
Meteors can come from asteroids, but also come from comets and their debris.
According to NASA, more than 100 tons of dust and sand sized particles slam into the Earth's atmosphere every day. Larger bodies, the size of a car, hit the Earth's atmosphere, burning up in a bright fireball visible with the naked eye.
Want something bigger? That's when things get scary. Every 2000 years a meteor or asteroid the size of a football field makes it through the atmosphere and causes widespread and catastrophic damage.
Over the course of a few million year extinction level events are possible. Remember dinosaurs? It is believed a meteor struck the Earth near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out most of the dinosaurs.
Did the Russian meteorite come from the asteroid DA-14 that will come so close to the Earth it could interfere with cell phone communication? The European Space Agency say no. But the timing and proximity of these two space events will always be linked in our minds.
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