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Comets & Asteroids

7 Nov 2013, 15:55 UTC
Comets & Asteroids
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Perhaps you’re a bit fuzzy on the differences between comets and asteroids. You’d like someone to make it easy, memorable – like how “stalagmites” has a “g” in it, so you know those rise up from the ground, while “stalactites,” with a “c,” come down from the ceiling. (You’re welcome.)

You’d like me to review the basics.

Asteroids circle the Sun as inert chunks of rock, mostly in orbits between Mars and Jupiter. Comets, on the other hand, can be found farther out, in the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud. Comets travel along more elliptical paths that sometimes take them to the inner solar system, where they puff off clouds of gas and dust into comas and tails.

The last thing you want is for someone to take that simple dichotomy and confuse things with wacky fringe cases. So if you’re reading this with a growing sense of dread, and you’re sneaking peeks at that adorably WTF animal pictured below – well, buckle in. We are going to talk about exceptions to the rules.

We’re going to discuss the platypuses of the solar system.

A platypus in Geelong, Australia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons User TwoWings

Some background seems in order. ...

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