What’s the difference between an asteroid, meteoroid, meteor and meteorite?

The largest asteroid since 2004 will pass close by the Earth (in astronomical standards) Wednesday night. The asteroid will fly by just over 1 million miles from the earth.

Many asteroids are much farther away between Mars and Jupiter – which is over 204,502,776 miles away! This particular 2,000 foot asteroid has not been this close to Earth since 400 years ago. Fortunately for us, it will not pose a risk to earth.

In light of this news on the asteroid, this week’s weather question is: What’s the difference between as asteroid, meteoroid, meteor and meteorite?

Asteroids are rocky objects orbiting the sun – usually between Mars and Jupiter (although they can orbit the sun at other locations). They are larger than meteoroids. A huge asteroid (6 miles across) contributed to the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

A meteoroid is a small particle from an asteroid or comet orbiting the sun. Many are the size of a pebble. Once a meteoroid enters earth’s atmosphere it becomes a meteor.

A meteor is a shooting star. The quick, white lines you can see on clear nights are from the meteors vaporizing as they enter earth’s atmosphere.

Meteorites are small, rocky pieces from an asteroid or meteoroid that make it to earth’s surface. If they’re big enough and made of the right elements, they can cause craters in the ground….like Meteor Crater in Arizona.

Although meteorologists have ‘meteor’ in the title, their expertise is weather. The term came from the Greek word ‘meteoron’ meaning ‘in the sky’. Weather, along with anything else in the sky, was described by Greek philosopher Aristotle as ‘meteorology’ in his book Meteorologica over 2,300 years ago.

Now, there are many concentrations in science, climate and weather.

Astronomers are best with anything space-related with further specialized fields. To find out more about asteroids, meteors, meteoroids or meteorites check out NASA’s page here or Coca Cola Space Science Center‘s.

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