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The asteroids of the inner Solar System and Jupiter: The donut-shaped asteroid belt is located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.
      Sun
      Jupiter trojans
      Orbits of planets
      Asteroid belt
      Hilda asteroids (Hildas)
      Near-Earth objects (selection)
The relative masses of the top twelve asteroids known compared to the remaining mass of all the other asteroids in the belt.
By far the largest object within the belt is Ceres. The total mass of the asteroid belt is significantly less than Pluto's, and approximately twice that of Pluto's moon Charon.

The asteroid belt is the region of the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets. The asteroid belt is also termed the main asteroid belt or main belt to distinguish it from other asteroid populations in the Solar System such as near-Earth asteroids and trojan asteroids. About half the mass of the belt is contained in the four largest asteroids: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. The total mass of the asteroid belt is approximately 4% that of the Moon, which is significantly less than that of Pluto and roughly twice that of Pluto's moon Charon (whose diameter is 1200 km).

Ceres, the asteroid belt's only dwarf planet, is about 950 km in diameter, whereas Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea have mean diameters of less than 600 km.<ref name="Krasinskyetal2002">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref><ref name="Pitjeva2005" /><ref name="halfmass" /><ref name="jplsbdb">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> The remaining bodies range down to the size of a dust particle. The asteroid material is so thinly distributed that numerous unmanned spacecraft have traversed it without incident. Nonetheless, collisions between large asteroids do occur, and these can form an asteroid family whose members have similar orbital characteristics and compositions. Individual asteroids within the asteroid belt are categorized by their spectra, with most falling into three basic groups: carbonaceous (C-type), silicate (S-type), and metal-rich (M-type).

The asteroid belt formed from the primordial solar nebula as a group of planetesimals, the smaller precursors of the planets, which in turn formed protoplanets. Between Mars and Jupiter, however, gravitational perturbations from Jupiter imbued the protoplanets with too much orbital energy for them to accrete into a planet. Collisions became too violent, and instead of fusing together, the planetesimals and most of the protoplanets shattered. As a result, 99.9% of the asteroid belt's original mass was lost in the first 100 million years of the Solar System's history.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Some fragments eventually found their way into the inner Solar System, leading to meteorite impacts with the inner planets. Asteroid orbits continue to be appreciably perturbed whenever their period of revolution about the Sun forms an orbital resonance with Jupiter. At these orbital distances, a Kirkwood gap occurs as they are swept into other orbits.

Classes of small Solar System bodies in other regions are the near-Earth objects, the centaurs, the Kuiper belt objects, the scattered disk objects, the sednoids, and the Oort cloud objects.

On 22 January 2014, ESA scientists reported the detection, for the first definitive time, of water vapor on Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt.<ref name="KüppersO’Rourke2014">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> The detection was made by using the far-infrared abilities of the Herschel Space Observatory.<ref name="NASA-20140122">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> The finding was unexpected because comets, not asteroids, are typically considered to "sprout jets and plumes". According to one of the scientists, "The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids."<ref name="NASA-20140122" />


Asteroid belt sections
Intro  History of observation  Origin  Characteristics  Collisions  Families and groups   Exploration   See also  References  Further reading  External links  

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