WHAT IS THE ASTEROID BELT?
The asteroid belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, is a wide belt of material orbiting the sun that contains perhaps millions of asteroids. Ceres, an asteroid recently upgraded to a dwarf planet, is also found here. These asteroids are
spread out over such a large swath of space that a spacecraft traveling through the belt would rarely en-counter one. They tend to collect in orbiting groups separated from one another by significant gaps, called Kirkwood gaps, which are caused
by the gravitational pull of Jupiter. Jupiter’s gravity occasionally pulls an asteroid out of orbit and sends it hur-tling to the sun. A rare asteroid veers out of the belt and rockets to Earth.
WHAT DOES AN ASTEROID LOOK LIKE?
The image to the right was created from a composite of four photographs of asteroid 433, also known as Eros, in our solar system’s asteroid belt. The photographs were taken by the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission in February 2000.
The NEAR spacecraft enter miles from the asteroid and about 160,400,0u0 niles from Earth. A year later, the NEAR spacecraft landed on Eros and confirmed that it is without atmosphere or water.
This asteroid is heavily cratered, suggesting that it is relatively old. The large crater visible here measures about four miles across. In its depression can be seen a boulder, equivalent in size to a single-family house.