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Formation of the Solar System and -----. Minor members of the Solar System - Asteroids, Meteors, Comets. Formation of the Solar System. How did it start?. Nebular Theory.

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Formation of the solar system and

Formation of the Solar System and -----

Minor members of the Solar System - Asteroids, Meteors, Comets

Nebular theory
Nebular Theory

  • Most astronomers now believe that the solar system formed from a swirling disk of dust and gases. This is called the nebular theory.

  • The nebular theory link

  • Classzone hyperlink


  • We have seen how the solar system formed

  • Some planetesimals were left over when the solar system formed

  • These became the asteroids, meteoroids and comets

  • Many of the asteroids are in the asteroid belt.

  • What is an asteroid belt like? Link

The asteroid belt
The Asteroid Belt

  • The asteroid belt occurs in orbit between Mars and Jupiter

  • The combined left over mass was not quite large enough to form another planet, especially due to the large disruptive force of gravity from nearby Jupiter, with its great mass.

  • Had the left over mass been larger, we might have had another planet there


Ida and Dactyl


  • So, asteroids are remnants from the formation of the solar system

  • They are therefore 4.5 billion years old and when we find pieces of them they give us information about the origins of the solar system

  • That is why we send probes to comets and asteroids



  • Asteroids occur in 3 types

    • Stony

    • Iron

    • Stony-iron

  • These actually are parts of asteroids that differentiated

  • The iron went to the center

  • When asteroids break up these become the iron meteors

Meteoroids meteors meteorites
Meteoroids, meteors, meteorites

  • These are actually all the same thing

  • They are named differently depending on their location

  • Small asteroid pieces are meteoroids

  • When they fall towards earth, burning up, they are called meteors. We get some of these all the time

  • If they actually hit the surface, then they are meteorites

Leonid Meteor


  • Comets are icy remnants of the solar system, with a small hard nucleus core and the surrounding gaseous coma

  • They reside in two regions, the Oort cloud and the Kuiper Belt link

  • They orbit the sun in long period elliptical orbits Classzone hyperlink

  • They begin to heat and vaporize as they approach the sun, forming a tail. The tail always points away from the sun, being pushed there by solar wind and radiation pressure link


Meteor showers
Meteor showers

  • Many comets are periodic, visiting the sun regularly

  • When comets go around the sun, they leave many small pieces in their orbital paths

  • When the earth intersects this comet debris, we get meteor showers – many small meteors giving us a great light show as they burn up – rarely touching the ground

  • We can predict when we get these since we cross these orbital paths periodically, like the Perseids every August

  • The complete breakup of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994 produced this spectacular telescopic image below

After colliding with Jupiter


  • This is worrisome since the earth periodically also gets hit by larger solar system remnants – asteroids or comets

  • The mass extinction at the end of the Mesozoic was probably due to an impact in the Yucatan

  • There is a small government program that searches for asteroids on collision paths with earth.

  • If a large one hits, it would be very bad for us

  • Link 1Link 2

How likely is a large collision
How likely is a large collision?

  • The map below shows major impact sites around the world. There are many of them.


  • Most craters have been weathered and are not visible anymore

  • But they give evidence that we have been visited many times by these fragments from space

  • And it has happened before

  • Classzone hyperlink

  • What if a collision sent new asteroids our way. Could this happen? Link

The end
The End?

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