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(Contrary to scenes from the movie Star Wars, there now are very large distances between each of the asteroids, but they do get hit by other orbiting objects, or are gradually moved into transfer orbits from which they can be perturbed into Earth-crossing trajectories).

This diverse collection of asteroids may include primitive objects (that is, early, unprocessed material left over from the accretion or partial accretion of the planets from the solar nebula), but also the disaggregated remains of now destroyed former planetary bodies, some of which had resided much closer to the Sun.

In the liquid or gaseous state, however, particles can move around and boil off.

Because of radioactive decay, the material starts out with a larger amount of daughter isotope than is chemically favorable, so some of it will escape to bring the material to equilibrium.

So how does melting a stone cause decayed radioactive elements to return to their original form? The same question applies to dating the solar system.

In the upper atmosphere, exposure to cosmic rays can transform a stable krypton isotope into a slow-decaying radioactive isotope.

PHOTOS: Using krypton to gauge the age of ancient ice Scientists say that air bubbles in polar ice will contain some of these radioisotopes.

There are other known asteroids that do not orbit within the Main Belt (such as various near Earth objects or NEOs), and some of these also could be sources of meteorites.

The most prevalent meteorites found on Earth contain small, partly glassy spheres called chondrules, and such rocks are termed chondrites (of at least 14 different types).

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