All You Have To Know About Comets

There are many objects that revolve around our sun which are truly remarkable. One of these heavenly bodies are the comets. But how much knowledge did we have about them?

Aside from the known planets with their moons, there are other objects that revolve around the sun. These objects are smaller and have much less mass than the planets. Experts in the field of astronomy suggested that majority of these objects had not yet discovered by humans. And among those which have already been studied are comets, asteroids and meteoroids. But we only studied just a small fraction of them.

When we see a comet in a clear night sky, we always depicted it as beautiful object of sight. But many of us do not know what the material

composition that makes up a comet is.  For a start, a comet is composed mostly of small dust and rock particles that is mixed with frozen water or ice, methane and ammonia. Because of this composition, we refer comets as “dirty snowballs”.  

Secondly, the different parts of a comet have its own name such as a nucleus, a coma and a tail. The solid part of the comet is called a nucleus. When the comet is far from the sun, it is like a giant snowball. As it approaches the sun, its main structure begins to change. As the heat of the sun heats up the approaching comet, the frozen water and frozen gasses begins to melt releasing vapor into space. The escaping gases form a bright cloud around the comet’s nucleus. This cloud is what we call a coma.  But the solar wind pushes the vaporized frozen gases in the coma. The frozen gas particles form a bright tail that points away from the sun. A comet’s tail can stretch as far as 150 million kilometers in space.

Majority of the comets that resolved around the sun have very large elongated orbits. And many comets come near the sun after thousands of years. The nearest comet that orbits the sun is the Encke’s Comet. It

complete one orbital cycle every 3.3 years. The most well known comet to us is the Halley’s Comet returns every 76 years. When Halley’s Comet returned in 1986, it was studied by six different spacecraft. Halley’s Comet was found to be 16 kilometers long and 8 kilometers wide. Its nucleus contains carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and magnesium.

Comets that reappear close to the sun in less than 200 years are called short-period comets while the long-period comets, only re-appear in thousands of years. An example of this is Hale-Bopp Comet, which appears every 2400 years, and Kahoutek Comet, which appears every 75,000 years.

Additional comet facts and trivia include the Shoemaker-Levy 9 and the Hykatake comet. On July 1994, a comet was observed to have collided with the planet Jupiter. The comet was named as the Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL-9) after the two persons who discovered it. In March 1996, another comet was discovered and was named Hykatake.

Astronomers concluded that comets are the most numerous bodies that orbit the sun. But we seldom see them in our own naked eye. Furthermore, majority of the comets are found in two distant regions of our Solar System - the Kuiper Belt beyond the orbit of Neptune and the Oort cloud far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Experts believed that as comets travel around the sun, the gravitational attraction of other stars and along with other planets changes the comet’s orbits. The sun’s gravity pulls comets towards it. The only time we see a comet with our naked eye is when it comes close to earth. While comets that escape from the sun’s gravitational pull wander far out into space.



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