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EarthSky // Today's Image Release Date: May 31, 2013

Today’s asteroid map of the inner solar system

This computer-generated image – updated at the website of Armagh Observatory – shows the enormous population of known asteroids present in the inner solar system.

View larger. | A map of the solar system for May 31, 2013, displaying the orbits of the terrestrial planets and the estimated position of thousands of known asteroids via Scott Manley and Armagh Observatory.

View larger. | A map of the solar system for May 31, 2013, displaying the orbits of the terrestrial planets and the estimated position of thousands of known asteroids via Scott Manley and Armagh Observatory.

People keep asking us why so many asteroids sweep close to Earth. The image on this page is the answer.

This up-to-date map of the inner solar system shows Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars cyan or white squares, and their orbits are represented by the blue ellipses around the sun (the yellow dot at the center). The Earth is highlighted because of its special importance to us. Small green points mark the location of asteroids which do not approach close to the Earth right now. Yellow objects (with the exception of sun) are Earth-approaching asteroids which are called Amors after the first one discovered. Amors have orbits which come close to the Earth but they don’t cross the Earth’s orbit, yet.

Finally the red boxes mark the location of the Apollo and Aten asteroids. These cross the Earth’s orbit and are the most directly identifiable astronomical threat for the near future.

It is estimated that there are perhaps 100,000 to 1,000,000 undiscovered asteroids on similar Earth crossing orbits.

Why does it seem as if there are so many more asteroids passing us now than ever before? Simply because astronomers’ tools for finding asteroids have become more powerful, and because more astronomers are looking for asteroids now than ever before.

Read more about this image from Armagh Observatory.

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