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Matrix Software > Learng Astrology > Astrophysical Directions > Solar System > Comets

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Back to Solar System   |   Back to Astrophysical Direction 


It is believed that Comets are massive chunks of loosely packed ices -- frozen gases. In addition to ordinary water, these include carbon dioxide (dry ice), methane, cyanogen, and ammonia. Comets move in highly elliptical orbits (in most cases) and spend the majority of their time in the frigid regions at the very edge of our solar system. Once every 10,000 years or so they come close to the Sun, rapidly cross the inner portion of their orbit, and then speed back out again to the depths of space. During this fleeting visit to the solar neighborhood, the comet encounters sunlight, which melts and evaporates some of the ices. The solar wind particles (ever flowing out from the Sun) catch this comet material and blow it out into a long luminous tail that may stretch millions of miles, always in a direction away from the Sun. It is believed that practically all comets belong to the solar system and no clear-cut evidence for a visitor from external space has been yet found. Upwards of 800 assages (more than 500 individual comets) have been observed with sufficient accuracy to provide reliable orbital data. Some 300 move in nearly parabolic or in hyperbolic orbits, while about 200 move in elliptic orbits of measurable period.

Bright and spectacular comets are rare, one appearing on the average of every ten years or so. According to one theory, "new comets" come close to the Sun for the first time when the gravitational action of passing stars perturbs their original orbits. The lifetimes of comets appear to be quite short, once their perihelion distance from the Sun are reduced to 1 A.U. or so. They begin to disintegrate and disappear. Each return of the comet results in a loss of mass until, in some cases, the comet may break into pieces and disintegrate.

Orbit of Comet

Very bright comets were seen during the 19th century in 1811, 1835, 1843, 1861, and 1882 and this century in 1910, 1957, 1962, and 1965. Comet designation represents the order of their discovery in a given year (1910a, 1910b, and so on) as temporary identification, along with the name of the discoverer or discoverers (not more than three names). Later, a permanent designation is decided upon that includes the year,, followed by a Roman numeral in the order of perihelion passage. Periodic comets often bear the names of their discoverers or occasionally of the individual who computes the orbit. The famous Halley's comet received its name because of Halley's important prediction of its return in 1759.

The head of a comet often appears as a stellar nucleus surrounded by a fuzzy coma, which may extend for more than 100,000 kilometers. Most comets appear or become visible somewhere between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, become brilliant and spectacular in the approach to the Sun, and show a rapid decrease in brightness as they recede from the Sun. During their departure, few are observed beyond 3 A.U.. Comets have long been a sign or believed to be an indication of powerful events soon to occur on Earth.

Copyright (c) 1997-99 Michael Erlewine

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