Tag Archives: Comets

All about Comets!

“Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars, I could really use a wish right now, wish right now, wish right now”

No, that’s not a quote. It’s actually the lyrics of the song “Airplanes” by rap artist B.o.B ft. Hayley Williams. You’re probably wondering why we would quote this here – well, don’t you EVER look for a shooting star in the night sky?

You bet we all do! And “shooting star” is just a fancy name we’ve come up with for the celestial comets. Now we’re not sure how far the “wishing upon a star” theory is true, but these facts about the comets are definitely legit!

To begin with, comets are composed dominantly of ice particles that are combined with elements of dust, gas, and rock. This is why they are also called dirty snowballs and are often referred to as cosmic snowballs too – it’s all about the ice!  

But where did these comets come from?

There are two basic theories that the astronomers suggest for the origin of these comets. Astronomers believe that comets either come from the Kuiper Belt present in outer space beyond the orbit of Neptune containing countless dormant comets; or the Oort Cloud – an extensive shell of objects formed of ice particles that exists in the furthermost reaches of our solar system. The Oort cloud is believed to be the home of dormant comets.

Which one of them sounds more believable to you?

Just like all the planets, comets orbit in elliptical paths around the sun; but their path is more oblique than that of the planets. These comets even have a halo! It’s called the coma. The coma is formed when the gas and ice in the comet vaporize due to solar radiation forming a halo around the comet as it moves towards the sun.

Coming to the composition of a comet; all comets are made of four basic components. They have a coma, a nucleus, an ion tail, and a dust tail. It is the nucleus that forms the core of the comet and also contains the most of its combined mass. As for the tails, the ion tail of the comet forms due to the solar winds that direct the gas particles in a direction opposite to the sun. The dust tail is composed of rocks and dust that the comet leaves behind as it orbits the sun.

Let’s talk about the celebrity comets. There have been three popular ones to be precise. The Halley’s Comet tops the chart; it is estimated that the comet was first observed in 240 B.C. and it can be seen from Earth’s surface after every 76 years. The comet takes it name after Edmond Halley – the British astronomer.

The other two well-known comets include Comet Hyakutake that was discovered back in 1996, and the Comet Hale-Bopp, which was first observed in the year 1995.

Did you know that currently there are more than three thousand comets that scientists actually know about?