ROGER HARRIS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY ROGER HARRIS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Asteroid approaching Earth. Illustration of an asteroid (at lower centre) approaching Earth. Dust is streaming from the asteroid's surface as it encounters the outer layers of the Earth's atmosphere. Asteroids are minor planets which follow elliptical orbits around the Sun and have diameters which are typically less than 100 kilometres. There are thousands of asteroids in the solar system and they lie mainly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. About 50 bodies, known as the Apollo asteroids, have orbits which intersect with that of Earth. It is a statistical certainty that Earth will be struck by an asteroid at some point in the future.
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