By Ron Miller
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Extra info for Asteroids, Comets and Meteors (Worlds Beyond)
Comparing photos of Earth seen from space with photos of other worlds such as Mars, the Moon, and the satellites of Jupiter, one is struck by the apparent absence of craters on our planet. Mars, for example, is covered with thousands of craters, some of them hundreds of miles wide. Does this mean that Earth was somehow spared this bombardment? There are several reasons that meteor craters are so hard to find on Earth. The surface of Earth is also constantly being recycled as its continental plates drift around, so that very old craters may be destroyed entirely.
Although it resembles a large asteroid, it will begin to develop a thin coma as sunlight evaporates its icy surface. (55) Most new comets are discovered by amateur astronomers. The best way to go about looking for new comets yourself would be to join a local astronomy club. Almost every city has one. Check with your science teacher or the astronomy department at a nearby university or community college. Even if you don’t try to discover your own, it’s fun to look at comets. There are always several visible during any year.
Some meteors, astronomers declared, must be tiny bits of debris left behind by the comets themselves. When these hit the atmosphere, friction burns them up with a bright flash visible from the ground. Most meteorites are far too small to survive to reach the ground and instead burn up at around 45 to 62 miles (75 to 100 km) above Earth. Other meteorites are very large and don’t burn up quickly. Instead, they leave long, brilliantly flaming trails across the sky. Very large meteors such as these are called fireballs or bolides.