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Comets

Kids Learning September 27, 2013

Comets

Comets are members of the solar system made up of gases (including methane, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide), ice and dust, a kind of a dirty snow ball! They travel around the sun, just like earth. The most famous comets are Halley’s comet, Hale-Bopp’s comet and the Shoemaker Levy 9 comet.

The most magnificent feature of comets is that they are known to have a ‘tail’ when visible in space. This is because as they fly near the sun, the solar energy and wind heats their outer layers of ice and vaporize it. The melting ice and dust forms a cloud around its nucleus, called a Coma and can be as large as tens of thousands of miles in diameter.The gases and dust in the coma reflect sunlight and give off their own light, resembling a magnificent ‘tail’. The tail will seem to be leading when it is flying away from the sun, and trailing when approaching the sun.

There are essentially two places in the solar system where comets seem to come from: The Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. They spend billions of years in these two places. Only when two comets crash against each other or come very close to each other, do they change directions and enter the inner solar system and start to melt away.

Can a comet hit our Earth? Well, comets and other object have been continuously hitting Earth before, but have not caused any major damage to humans. Several impact creaters have been observed on Earth, serving as examples of comet or asteroid impacts.

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