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  • Shayon Roy

The Science Behind Comets

We have always fancied the “shooting stars” and made a wish upon them as we see them, however rarely, gliding across the vast, never-ending sky. They are literally “best out of waste” as they are frozen leftovers from the formation of the solar system composed of dust, rock, and ice. They roam around the universe freely with no leash. One might even envy their freedom wishing to be like them. But that is where they are wrong, comets might just have the saddest backstory…..

The gravity of a planet or star can pull comets from their homes in the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud. This tug can redirect a comet toward the Sun. The paths of these redirected comets look like long, stretched ovals. They are then pulled away from their homes and they swing around behind the Sun and then return to its original direction as it is drawn closer and closer to the Sun. A few comets plunge straight into the Sun, disappearing from view. We are able to see the comet in our skies when it is in the inner solar system, whether it is moving inside or outward.

But that orbit around the sun is in no way a vacation as it can take up to 200 years, minimum! These are the ones residing in a wide disk beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt. These are called short period comets as their orbit around the sun takes only 200 years and more. The outer border of the solar system, shaped like a sphere and located around 50 times farther from the Sun than the Kuiper Belt, is home to one additional layer of comets, known as the Oort cloud. Because they take a lot longer to orbit the Sun, these comets are known as long-period comets. It takes the comet with the longest known orbit about 250,000 years to complete one round of the Sun!

They may yield important clues about the formation of our solar system. Comets may have brought water and organic compounds, the building blocks of life, to the early Earth and other parts of the solar system. They might just be the main contributors that made our mother Earth the way it is now…

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