ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – One of the biggest science headlines of July 2020 has been the Neowise Comet that graced skies of the Northern Hemisphere for weeks on end. Let’s dive into the difference between the flying objects we see in space here. We will go in alphabetical order.

ASTEROID:

This is an image of the asteroid “Eros” taken by NASA in 2000.

A rock material that revolves around the sun and remains in orbit. Think of an asteroid as a rock that hangs out with other asteroids in a large belt within the solar system inbetween Mars and Jupiter. You may recognize this from popular space movies such as Star Wars that frequently features asteroid belts or asteroid fields.

COMET:

This is a photo of comet Neowise from NASA. The comet was discovered in March 2020 and was visible most of July in Rochester.

No rock involved here, just a combination of ice, dust, and gas that is moving through space, often orbiting the sun. They originate from the creation of our solar system. A comet that is millions of miles away from earth can still be seen thanks to its tail. As it nears the sun, some of the material sheds off from the main ball of gas, dust and ice to make the tail that can extend sometimes for millions of miles.

METEOR/METEOROID/METEORITE:

A meteoroid heading toward earth turns into a meteor and will often burn up in the atmosphere, creating a “shooting star”.

An asteroid can break off into a meteoroid (picture above) that is just floating in space. This can happen if two asteroids run into each other. A meteoroid can also come from a comet. When a meteoroid enters earth’s atmosphere, it turns into a meteor. These meteor showers are common and can also be referred to “shooting stars”. If it gets all the way to the surface of the earth, it is a meteorite. Below is a list of common meteor showers that occur throughout the year from NASA.

Quadrantids – December/January
Lyrids – April
Perseids – August
Orionids – October
Leonids – November
Geminids – December

USEFUL MNEMONICS:

  1. Asteroid belt is common in feature films and can be remembered as (A-B), the rocks orbiting around the sun.
  2. Asteroid and meteoroid both are spelled the same at the end, so imagine them as similar in space. Meteoroids often break away from an asteroid.
  3. Meteor is commonly known from “Meteor shower”. Just remember that the showers occur in our own atmosphere, so that is where we see meteors.
  4. Meteorite ends with an “I” sound, so imagine “I found a meteorite!”, a meteor that made it all the way to the ground.