A meteor explodes through the atmosphere and hits the ground, injuring hundreds in Russia. An asteroid, half the size of a football field will come very close to the Earth today as it passes on its orbit.
As I listened to these stories this morning, besides the general feeling of doom (don’t worry, NASA promises the asteroid is a safe distance away), I found myself wondering what was the difference between a meteor, asteroid and comet.
So for those of you who didn’t learn this (like me) or forgot it at some point, here is the breakdown courtesy of Science Kids:
A comet is a relatively small solar system body that orbits the Sun. When close enough to the Sun they display a visible coma (a fuzzy outline or atmosphere due to solar radiation) and sometimes a tail.
Asteroids are small solar system bodies that orbit the Sun. Made of rock and metal, they can also contain organic compounds. Asteroids are similar to comets but do not have a visible coma (fuzzy outline and tail) like comets do.
A meteoroid is a small rock or particle of debris in our solar system. They range in size from dust to around 10 metres in diameter (larger objects are usually referred to as asteroids).
A meteoroid that burns up as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere is known as a meteor. If you’ve ever looked up at the sky at night and seen a streak of light or ‘shooting star’ what you are actually seeing is a meteor.
A meteoroid that survives falling through the Earth’s atmosphere and colliding with the Earth’s surface is known as a meteorite.
So now that you can impress your co-workers, friends and families with your knowledge of near Earth objects, check out this amazing video from Russia’s early morning meteorite strike (And more here).[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W90i4nZZAQ&w=420&h=315]