Asteroids are minor planets (small Solar System bodies and dwarf planets) that are notcomets, especially those of the inner Solar System. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones. These terms have historically been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not show the disk of a planet and was not observed to have the characteristics of an active comet, but as small objects in the outer Solar System were discovered, their volatile-based surfaces were found to more closely resemble comets and so were often distinguished from traditional asteroids. Thus the term asteroid has come increasingly to refer specifically to the small bodies of the inner Solar System out to the orbit of Jupiter. They are grouped with the outer bodies—centaurs, Neptune trojans, and trans-Neptunian objects—as minor planets, which is the term preferred in astronomical circles.In this article the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System.
There are millions of asteroids, many thought to be the shattered remnants of planetesimals, bodies within the young Sun's solar nebula that never grew large enough to becomeplanets. The large majority of known asteroids orbit in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter or co-orbital with Jupiter (the Jupiter Trojans). However, other orbital families exist with significant populations, including the near-Earth asteroids. Individual asteroids are classified by their characteristic spectra, with the majority falling into three main groups: C-type, S-type, and M-type. These were named after and are generally identified with carbon-rich, stony, and metallic compositions, respectively.
Only one asteroid, 4 Vesta, which has a relatively reflective surface, is normally visible to the naked eye, and this only in very dark skies when it is favorably positioned. Rarely, small asteroids passing close to Earth may be naked-eye visible for a short time.