Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Where Do Comets Come From?
The comets we see from Earth come from the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. The Kuiper Belt is a massive belt of comets and rocky debris in space that begins just outside the orbit of Neptune and extends to approximately fifty-five Astronomical Units from the Sun. Many objects in the Kuiper belt consist of a mixture of frozen water/ammonia/methane and rock. The Oort cloud could have as many as a trillion comets and encompasses most of the solar system. Both regions are remnants of the nebula from which the solar system was formed. It is interesting to note that the tails of a comet are only visible when it passes nearby the Sun. As these "dirty snowballs" heat up and sublimate, producing a tail of gas they points away from the Sun and tail of dust that curves along with the orbital path of the comet. Based on current scientific evidence, it is observed that comets can come from any direction in space and usually have very high orbital eccentricity.