Comets

Comets are small bodies which formed early in the evolution of the Solar System, far from the Sun. They are comprised of a mixture of stony materials and ices. Billions of them orbit beyond the orbit of Neptune. Occasionally these are perturbed and directed into the inner Solar System. Some are further perturbed by Jupiter and end up in periodic orbits of a few years to a few decades; some are one-time visitors, some will return, but not for many thousands of years.

When comets get near to the Sun- typically somewhere between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter- they heat up enough that their ices are released as gas. The expelled gas usually carries dust and pebbles along with it. This produces the comet's characteristic tail (or tails- the dust and gas are usually pushed in somewhat different directions.

Most comets never get bright enough to be seen except with some kind of optical aid- a telescope, binoculars, or long exposure camera. Every few years one becomes bright enough to see with the naked eye, and a few times a century a comet may appear that is truly spectactular- perhaps even visible in daylight. Such comets are largely unpredictable, and are often discovered only a few months before they reach their peak.


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C/2023 P1 Nishimura
C/2023 P1 Nishimura
12P/Pons-Brooks
12P/Pons-Brooks
C/2023 E1
C/2023 E1 ATLAS
C/2022 E3 ZTF
C/2022 E3 ZTF
C/2021 A1 Leonard
C/2021 A1 Leonard
C/2020 F3 NEOWISE
C/2020 F3 NEOWISE
C/2017 T2 PANSTARRS
C/2017 T2 PANSTARRS
C/2019 Y4 ATLAS
C/2019 Y4 ATLAS
260P/McNaught
260P/McNaught
46P/Wirtanen
46P/Wirtanen
C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy
C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy
C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS
C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS
C/2006 P1 McNaught
C/2006 P1 McNaught
17P/Holmes
17P/Holmes
C/2004 Q2 Machholz
C/2004 Q2 Machholz
C/2001 Q4 NEAT
C/2001 Q4 NEAT
C/2002 O4 Hoenig
C/2002 O4 Hoenig
153P/Ikeya-Zheng
153P/Ikeya-Zheng
C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp
C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp
C/1996 B2 Hyakutake
C/1996 B2 Hyakutake