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Asteroids, Comets, Meteors, and Meteorites

A compilation of educational materials about asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteorites
meteor poster from American Meteor Society
Download this American Meteor Society poster comparing comets, asteroids, and meteorites.

What is the difference?

  • An asteroid is a rocky object that orbits the Sun. Asteroids are smaller than a planet, but they are larger than the pebble-size objects we call meteoroids. 
  • Comets are small icy dirtballs that orbit the Sun; comets are made of ice and dust while asteroids are made of rock).
  • A meteor is a space rock—or meteoroid—that enters Earth's atmosphere, as it – burns up upon entering Earth’s atmosphere, it creating a streak of light in the sky (often called "shooting stars"). When Earth encounters many meteoroids at once, we call it a meteor shower.
  • If a meteoroid survives its trip through Earth’s atmosphere and lands on the Earth’s surface, it is called a meteorite.

Banner images above, left to right:
Asteroid Bennu (NASA),
Fireball Meteor over Groningen the Netherlands (Robert Mikaelyan), and Comet 67P (ESA)

Perseid Meteor Shower - a meteor streaks across the sky 2016 in Spruce Knob West Virginia Credit NASA Bill Ingalls
A meteor streaks across the sky
during the Perseid Meteor Shower in Spruce Knob West Virginia 2016,
credit: NASA /Bill Ingalls

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseids are the most popular meteor shower as they peak on warm August nights as seen from the northern hemisphere. The Perseids are active from July 17 to August 24. They will peak on August 11-12, 2021. 


 

Asteroid Day logo June 30th

Asteroid Day

screenshot of the astromaterials meteorite viewer

NASA Resources

an artistic depiction of NASA OSIRIS-REx mission
Artistic depiction of OSIRIS-Rex mission

Featured NASA Missions and Programs

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