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Matrix Software > Learng Astrology > Astrophysical Directions > Solar System > Asteroids

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Asteroids

The Asteroids (Greek, asteroides, "starlike"), also known as the minor planets or planetoids, constitute a group of bodies ranging from about 470 miles to a mile or two in diameter that revolve about the Sun in orbits that occur, in general, between those of Mars and Jupiter. It has long been known that the distance between Mars and Jupiter is proportionally larger than for any other two planets and Kepler even suggested that a planet might be found in this region of the solar system. The first asteroid was sighted in this region in 1801 (Ceres) and by 1807 three others were known (Pallas, Juno and Vesta). As of 1972 there were 1779 minor planets with determined orbits and an estimated 50,000 asteroids probably exist. The great majority of the asteroids move in orbits within a range of 2.1 to 3.5 astronomical units from the Sun and the orbital periods vary, in general, between 3.3 and 6 years, with a weighted average of 1.5 years. The orbits are somewhat more eccentric than those of the principal planets and the orbital planes are also more highly inclined to the plane of the ecliptic. The asteroids are more or less evenly spread between Mars and Jupiter, with " some exceptions. None has a period close to one-half, two fifths or one third of the orbital period of Jupiter and these spaces in the asteroid belt are termed the Kirkwood gaps.

It was first thought that these gaps were produced by perturbations caused by the giant planet Jupiter, but today it is felt that the disturbing actions of many asteroids on each other, in resonance, force them out of period. There is no precise information concerning the true mass or structure of any asteroid. Many astronomers believe that most are the broken fragments of two (or many) small planets that, formed between Mars and Jupiter, subsequently underwent violent collisions.

Copyright (c) 1997-99 Michael Erlewine


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