- © 2014 by the Mineralogical Society of America
At present, we know of ~600,000 asteroids in the asteroid belt, and there are very likely millions more. Orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, they are thought to be the shattered remnants of small bodies formed within the young Sun's solar nebula that never accreted enough material to become planets. These “minor bodies” are therefore keys to understanding how the Solar System formed and evolved. As leftover planetary building blocks, they are of great importance in understanding planetary compositions. They may also provide clues to the origin of life, as similar bodies may have delivered organics and water to the early Earth. For these reasons, several international space agencies have funded sample-return missions to asteroids.