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Hazards: Impacts in our future?

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Thousands of asteroids and comets cross paths with earth. How dangerous are they?

The great majority of asteroids orbit the Sun in well-ordered bands between Mars and Jupiter. But occasionally, a collision between two asteroids followed by a gravitational nudge from Jupiter shifts an asteroid into a new orbit that crosses paths with Earth.

Fortunately, the largest and potentially most destructive asteroids-measuring several miles across-are extremely rare. Astronomers have already spotted most of them, and so far none poses a serious threat. But many thousands of asteroids, each as wide as a sports stadium, remain undiscovered. Although the odds of one striking any particular place are exceedingly small, such an impact could ruin a large metropolitan area.

For Educators

Topic: Astronomy

Subtopic: Milky Way Galaxy

Keywords: Asteroid belt, Astrophysics, Asteroids--Collisions with Earth, Astrogeology, Collisions (Astrophysics), Near-Earth asteroids, Natural disasters

Audience: General