Comets: Facts about the icy cosmic bodies you didn’t know

1. A comet has four components.

It has a nucleus, a coma, a dust tail, and an ion tail.

2. Sometimes comets are referred to as “dirty snowballs” or “cosmic snowballs.”

This is because they are composed mostly of ice, rock, gas, and dust. A comet’s nucleus is made of ice and can be as small as a few meters across to giant boulders a few kilometers across.

3. Comets come from the Kuiper belt and the Oort Cloud. 

Image: Theplanets.org
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These areas of space are way out in the solar system, far away from the Sun. The Oort cloud is so far away we have never even seen it!

4. There are millions of comets, and they are all orbiting the Sun.

Most take less than two hundred years to do so, and others travel much slower, potentially taking millions of years to complete an orbit.

5. Comets have a halo when they move close to the Sun.

As a comet gets closer to the Sun, it begins to experience heat. That causes some of its ices to sublimate. It turns the gas in the comet into a halo around it. The halo is known as the comet’s coma.

6. The most famous comet is Halley’s Comet.

Image: Getty Images

Its orbit makes it visible from Earth every 76 years. It was named after the British astronomer Edmond Halley.

7. There are over 3,000 currently known comets. 

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Scientists believe that there be up to one billion comets in our solar system.

8. Only a few comets are great comets.

A great comet is one that is bright enough to be visible from Earth without the need for a telescope. Approximately one great comet happens every ten years.

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