Asteroids and the asteroid belt is an exciting mystery of our solar sytem. So many celestial phenomenons, there is probably none as exciting as that time you see your first asteroid on the move in the heavens. Asteroids are the rock stars of astronomy, an accurate depiction of how astronomy fans view them. Unlike suns, planets and moons, asteroids are on the move, ever changing and--if they appear in the night sky--exciting and dynamic.
Like rock stars, asteroids have been given their fair share of urban myth and lore. Many have attributed the extinction of the dinosaurs to the impact of a huge asteroid on the earth. This theory has some credibility and, if it is true, it evokes some pretty startling images and foreboding fears in the current species on earth, the human race.
The fact that asteroids are fast moving space debris only makes their movement and activity more interesting. Unlike a moon, planet or star, the odds that an asteroid could hit the earth are entirely reasonable and in fact, there are many documented cases of small asteroids making it through our atmosphere and leaving some pretty impressive craters in the earth's surface.
By far, the most talked about concept that has captured the imagination and the fears of science fiction fans and the general public is of another asteroid hitting the earth that could wipe out life as allegedly happened to the dinosaurs. In fact, the movie "Armageddon" was based on this idea and the concept that somehow mankind could avert that catastrophe with technology.
We now know that the majority of asteroids we get to witness come from an asteroid belt that exists between Mars and Jupiter. It is from this community of asteroids that many of the notable asteroids emerged. Scientists have gained significant knowledge about the composition of asteroids and separated them into classes including class S which comes of the part of the belt that is closest to Mars, classes C, D and V which are classified by composition and a class called "Centaurs" whose flight patterns take them closer to Jupiter and Uranus.
Probes NASA has conducted near flying asteroids have performed some detailed studies of these eccentric celestial bodies. In 1994 the Galileo probe got within 1000 miles of the asteroid Ida and discovered that Ida actually had its own moon.
Other probes have fired data collectors into asteroids and even landed on an asteroid to produce some valuable scientific data. There is much to learn about asteroids as we re-discover astronomy--whether child or adult--that knowledge only makes our enjoyment of asteroids and the asteroid belt in the cosmos even more awe-inspiring.