Article written by: Helen McLoughlin, Education Officer
In a nutshell, comets are small bodies of ice and dust in orbit around the Sun. When they pass near the Sun, they start to vaporise creating long tails of dust and gas. Even this small amount of information makes us ask so many questions about these members of our solar system. Who discovered them? Where are they formed? How do I spot one? In this article, I hope to expand on these questions and hopefully show that they are so much more than ‘dirty cosmic snowballs’.
Hubble’s view of Comet ISON on Oct. 9, 2013. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
As mentioned in the introduction they are balls of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the Sun. When they are frozen, they can be the size of a small town! If a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, it heats up and throws out dust and gases into a large glowing ball larger than most planets. The dust and gases form a tail that stretches away from the Sun for millions of miles.
If we look at a comet in ...