Asteroid Belt Facts

We find the asteroid belt between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

This is an area that has a lot of celestial bodies including some that are called minor planets. It is the location of the asteroid belt that is believed to have protected Earth from more collisions.

The asteroid belt is mostly kept in check due to the gravitational pull of Jupiter, however, some do migrate close and are thrown out into the outer Solar System.

How far to the Asteroid Belt

The asteroid belt is around 329,115,316-478,713,186 km from the Sun. Scientists have been monitoring some of the various objects in the asteroid belt and have found that they are an average distance between objects of around 600,000 miles.

You could get an idea of the distance when you think of the circumference of the Earth as only 24,901.45 miles. This means that the distance between the objects in the asteroid belt are over 24 times Earth’s circumference.

What is the Asteroid Belt made from

The mass of the entire asteroid belt is made up of mostly the mass of a few asteroids. Half of the mass is from the asteroids Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea.

Ceres is the only one of these that has been categorized as a dwarf planet, however, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygeia have diameters that are over 400 km.

All of the rest of the asteroid belt consists of objects of all sizes, all the way to tiny dust particles.

A source for Asteroid Mining

One of the ideas that is of high interest is in asteroid mining. As humans continue to use up all of the key elements on earth, companies are looking to the asteroid belt as a possible source for such elements as silver, phosphorous, lead, zinc, tin, antimony, gold, copper, and indium.

It has been estimated that at the current rate, we could exhaust the sources of these elements on Earth within 50-60 years. Asteroid mining would involve extensive space missions to mine the raw materials that are abundant within the asteroids.

As we move further and further out in space, asteroid mining could also be a priority for construction through the mining of titanium, nickel, iron, and even water and oxygen.

These sources could be used to maintain life for astronauts that were also “prospectors,” keeping them alive and building space colonies. Oxygen and hydrogen could be used as rocket fuel.

The main obstacle to overcome in the asteroid mining idea is financial. Private companies are currently looking into the idea but it is high risk, a lot of investment, and long durations for payoff.

There are some mining projects in the works involving Deep Space Industries and Planet Resources. NASA intends to have its own projects and other countries are looking into the feasibility.

China is currently considering putting a station on the moon for the purpose of jumpstarting colonization as well as asteroid mining.

Facts about the Asteroid Belt

  • There are other known “belts” in the Solar System, including the Centaurs and Lagrangians; therefore the asteroid belt is referred to as the “main belt” to avoid confusion.
  • While there are hundreds of thousands of known asteroids in the asteroid belt, it still contains potentially billions of objects that are not yet known.
  • When an asteroid is discovered it is given a name by the individual that discovered it as well as an official scientific designation.
  • It’s believed that during the formation of the asteroid belt, many of the objects contained began to fuse together to form protoplanets. However, once Jupiter was complete, its gravitational pull was so great that it caused collisions of these protoplanets to such a degree that they broke apart.
  • The Jupiter gravity effect created so many collisions that scientists estimate that 99.99% of the original mass of the asteroid belt occurred in the Solar System’s first 100 million years.
  • It’s believed that there are around 0.7-1.7 million asteroids sized with a diameter of 1 km or larger and around 200 asteroids that are bigger than 100 km.
  • The asteroid belt is so huge and the distance between objects so great that space crafts can easily cruise through the belt without hitting any asteroids.

Asteroid Belt Quiz