You can find our solar system’s asteroid belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter. It’s made up of small and large asteroids, as well as dwarf planets like Ceres. And while this collection of space rock has fascinated scientists for a very long time it’s recently become the focus of companies wanting to mine these resource-rich rocks for their rich minerals.
Let me expand your knowledge about our solar system with these 10 facts about the Asteroid Belt:
The discovery of the Asteroid Belt
An 18th century astronomer by the name of Johann Titius, predicted that there was a planet between Mars and Jupiter. This set off a group of astronomers by the name of the Celestial Police to go hunting for it. They each searched 15 degrees of the Zodiac for the planet. However it was a non-member, Giuseppe Piazzi, who discovered the first asteroid, Ceres. A second object was discovered a year later.
After more and more discoveries of these new “planets”, It was decided that they were actually too small to be called planets. Instead, they started calling them asteroids.
The Asteroid Belt has three zones
The main area of the Asteroid Belt is made up of three zones. These zones are divided by space called Kirkwood Gaps. Zone I is closest to Earth, Zone II, and Zone III which is the furthest out.
Some scientists categorize the areas of the belt as inner and outer. The inner belt orbits close to Mars, while the outer belt is closer to Jupiter’s orbit.
The distance away from Earth and the Sun
The space between Earth, the sun, and the asteroid belt vary due to three asteroid belt zones as explained above. But if we’re going by the closest zone, we would have to travel about 115 million miles to reach the outside edge. If we’re starting at the sun it would be about 2 billion miles.
Due to that distance, the asteroid belt isn’t in any danger of colliding with Earth.
How the Asteroid Belt was formed
Astronomers have a couple of theories on the how the belt was formed. Some assumed that the belt was a failed planet that wasn’t able to form due to the gravity of Jupiter pulling on the rocks. And that there were more asteroids, but Jupiter’s gravity also shoved most of it to other reaches of space.
The newest theory is that the Asteroid Belt is somewhat of a space rock junkyard. Rocks from the inner and outer reaches collected in the spot they are in.
Researchers who support this theory say that the asteroids that are closer to the rocky planets are S-type. That means they contain silicate like the inner planets. The outer asteroids, C-type, contain carbon like the outer planets. So basically extra material was thrown into the asteroid belt.
The Asteroid Belt is thinly populated
Asteroid belts are often seen as a densely populated collection of floating rocks that skilled space pilot have to skillfully maneuver around. But this simply isn’t true, as there is a lot of space in between those rocks. At one time there may have been as much as 99% more asteroids, but as of today you can safely pass through the belt without even seeing a rock. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot rocks, it’s just that there’s a lot of space between them.
The Asteroid Belt has a dwarf planet
There are 5 dwarf planets in the solar system, and one of them, Ceres, is in the Asteroid Belt.
Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt. The dwarf planet is so big compared to the other rocks in the belt. It is so big that it comprises 25% of the belt’s total mass. But is still pretty small by space standards with a radius of just 296 miles. Pluto is 14x bigger. But still a pretty large object.
Recently, research has shown that Ceres may have a salty ocean below its surface. If true, this would make Ceres and ocean world.
Ceres was studied closely by the spacecraft Dawn reached in 2015. But there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding it, which will be answered with future missions by both public and private ventures.
Humans could someday live in the Asteroid Belt
Quite possibly the future of the Expanse could come true. Humans could be belters living and mining the Asteroid Belt. As a matter of fact, astrophysicist Pekka Janhunen, with the Finnish Meteorological Institute, thinks humans could be living aboard a giant space station around Ceres in as little as 22 years. With mirrors to bring in more sunlight and thick hulls to block radiation. Janhunen can see a Ceres future where the stations would produce gravity rotating every 66 seconds and a 636-mile elevator would lift supplies from the surface.
The Asteroid Belt could be the source of Earth’s oceans
This is pretty wild: Scientists believe that comet collisions with Earth were the source of our oceans. But classical comets aren’t high enough in ice to support this. However, some objects in the main Asteroid Belt are very icy and comet-like. So scientists believe that these belt comets could be the source for the Earth’s oceans.
The belt has a lot of Meteoroids
The Asteroid Belt is full of meteoroids as a result of collisions among the asteroids. Some of these small rocks have even made their way to Earth. As a matter of fact, scientists believe that around 98% of meteorites that have been found on Earth have come from the Asteroid Belt.
The age of the asteroids vary
Not all of the asteroids are the same age. Some are very old, and some are quite young by cosmos standards.
The Karin family of asteroids in the main-belt are thought to be from a single object and as old as 5.7 million years. The Veritas family is even older at 8.3 million years. And the youngest group, the Datura family, is a young 530,00 years old.