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Comets are small celestial entities that orbit the Sun, similar to asteroids. Unlike asteroids, however, comets are predominantly made of frozen ammonia, methane, or water, with only trace amounts of stony material.

As a result of this makeup, comets are referred to as “dirty snowballs.” Let’s learn some interesting comet facts for kids!

Before we jump into comet facts, let us know the parts of a comet

Components of a comet

components of a comet
Components of a comet. By CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Some comets have orbits that are quite elliptical and bring them pretty close to the Sun.

As these comets approach the Sun, the ices contained within them melt, forming bright characteristics. Here is a list of these characteristics.

Nucleus: A comet’s nucleus is composed of ice and stony elements. The nucleus of the majority of comets has a diameter between 10 and 100 kilometers.

Coma: It refers to the cloud of gases that forms around the nucleus as the coma is heated. Typically, these gases consist of water vapor, ammonia, and carbon dioxide.

Dust Tail: The dust tail of a comet is formed of gases and minute dust particles ejected from the nucleus as the comet’s surface temperature rises. The comet’s dust tail is the most prominent feature.

Ion Tail: The ion tail is a stream of ionized gases blown directly away from the Sun by the comet’s interaction with the solar wind.

Comet Facts for Kids 1-13

1. Each and every comet in the solar system orbit the sun.

2. A short-period comet completes an orbit around the sun in fewer than 200 years.

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3. Long-period comets have orbital periods ranging from hundreds to millions of years.

4. As comets approach the sun, they emit gases as they warm up; this process is known as outgassing.

5. When the Earth travels through a comet’s tail, we see a meteor shower, which consists of debris from the tail entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

6. While a comet is relatively small, measuring on average only 10 miles wide, its tail can be up to 15 times longer than the diameter of the Earth.

7. As of July 2019, there are 6,619 known comets in our solar system.

8. Comets can strike our planet; the last time this occurred was approximately 28 million years ago.

9. Perihelion refers to the closest point in a comet’s orbit to the Sun. The most remote point is known as “aphelion.”

10. As a comet approaches the Sun, sublimation causes it to lose some mass.

After sufficient orbits, a comet will finally fragment. Comets also disintegrate if their orbits get them TOO near to the Sun or another planet.

11. Typically, comets are composed of frozen water and super cold ices of methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. These are a mixture of rocks, dust, and metallic solar system junk.

12. Comets have two tails: a dust tail, which can be observed with the naked eye, and a plasma tail, which can be photographed but is difficult to observe with the human eye.

13. Typically, comet orbits are elliptical.

Comet Facts for Kids 14-26

14. Numerous comets are formed in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belts, two of the solar system’s most distant regions.

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15. Comets are not alien spacecraft or bases. They are fascinating remnants of the Sun and planets’ creation that date back to the beginning of the solar system.

16. Comets, like planets, orbit the Sun in elliptical trajectories.

17. A comet consists of a nucleus, coma, tail, and an ion tail or plasma tail.

18. The majority of a comet’s mass is contained in its nucleus.

19. Halley’s Comet is the most well-known of all comets. This phenomenon has been documented since at least 240 B.C. It was named for Edmond Halley, a British astronomer.

20. A great comet is one that is visible without the need for a telescope from Earth. Approximately one major comet occurs every decade.

a comet - comet facts for kids

21. The majority of comets are barely wider than a few kilometers. (2.5 kilometers = around 1.5 miles).

This may seem like a large distance to us, yet in our solar system, it is rather modest.

22. Edmond Halley spotted it in 1531, 1607, and 1682. It is a periodic comet that orbits the Earth approximately every 75 years.

It last visited Earth’s neighborhood in 1986 and will return around 2061.

23. Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp found the Hale-Bopp comet independently on July 23, 1995.

This comet is one of the most frequently observed in the 20th century.

It is also one of the brightest comets to approach the Earth in recent decades.

24. The Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet provided astronomers with a front-row ticket to the first impact event involving objects from the solar system.

In July 1994, astronomers witnessed the collision of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet on Jupiter.

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The impact energy is expected to be equivalent to six million megatons of TNT.

25. Greek philosophers spotted the first comet in 500 B.C.

Where do comets come from?

Comets are typically located at the edge of the solar system. Some dwell in the Kuiper Belt, a vast disk beyond the orbit of Neptune.

These are known as short-period comets. It takes fewer than 200 years for them to orbit the Sun.

Other comets reside in the Oort Cloud, the spherical solar system boundary that is approximately 50 times further from the Sun than the Kuiper Belt.

These are known as long-period comets because their orbit around the Sun takes considerably longer.

It takes the comet with the longest known orbit more than 250,000 years to complete a single revolution around the Sun.

Why do comets have tails?

As dust and gases rush away from the nucleus, sunlight and solar particles push them into a brilliant tail that spans millions of kilometers behind the comet.

When astronomers examine comets closely, they discover that they contain two distinct tails.

One appears white and composed of dust. The comet’s dust tail follows a broad, gently curved course.

The other tail is blue and composed of ions or electrically charged gas molecules.

The direction of the ion tail is always directed away from the Sun.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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