Section 5 Comets, Asteroids, and Meteors2

Section 5: Comets,
Asteroids, and Meteors
• The word "comet" comes from the Greek
word for "hair.”
• Our ancestors thought comets were stars
with what looked like flowing hair trailing
Comets: “Dirty Snowballs”
• Comets are loose collections of ice, dust,
and small rocky particles whose orbits are
usually very long, narrow ellipses.
Structure of a Comet
A Comet’s Head
– Outer layer= Coma (water vapor,
CO2, and other gases)
– Solid inner core= Nucleus (frozen
ice, gas and dust )
Comet’s Tail
• As a comet approaches the sun and heats
up, some of its gas and dust stream outward,
forming a tail.
• Most comets have 2 tails:
– gas (ion), tail
– dust tail
• Tails point away from the sun because of
the force of the solar wind.
• A comet’s tail can be more than 100 million
kilometers long.
Comet’s Tail
Comet’s Orbit
• Comets move in an elliptical shaped orbit.
Origin of Comets
• Most comets are found in 2 regions of the
solar system: Kuiper belt and Oort cloud.
• Kuiper belt-doughnut-shaped region that
extends beyond Neptune’s orbit to about
100 times Earth’s distance from the sun.
• Oort cloud-spherical region of comets that
surrounds the solar system out to more than
1,000 times the distance between Pluto and
the sun.
Famous Comets
• Comet Halley is perhaps the most famous comet in history.
• Each time this comet's orbit approaches the Sun, its 15-km
(9-mile) nucleus sheds about 6 m (7 yards) of ice and rock
into space. This debris forms an orbiting trail that, when
falling to Earth, is called the Orionids meteor shower.
• Halley’s comet reappears every 76 years. Its next
appearance is in 2061.
Comet Hale-Bopp
• July 23, 1995- an
unusually large and bright
comet was seen outside of
Jupiter's orbit by Alan
Hale of New Mexico and
Thomas Bopp of Arizona.
• Exceptionally large size.
• It was visible even
through bright city skies,
and may have been the
most viewed comet in
recorded history.
• It will not appear again for
another 2,400 years.
Other Famous Comets
• Comet Hyakutake-On January 30, 1996, Yuji Hyakutake
(pronounced "hyah-koo-tah-kay"), an amateur astronomer
from southern Japan, discovered a new comet using a pair
of binoculars.
• Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9-Between July 16 and July 22,
1994, more than 20 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy
9 collided with the planet Jupiter. Astronomers Carolyn
and Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy discovered the
comet in 1993. It was the first collision of two Solar
System bodies ever to be recorded.
Comet Exploration
• The Deep Impact spacecraft was launched
in December 2004 and encountered comet
Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005-mission that
studied and impacted comet Tempel 1.
• Click on image in center of page to see
• A small and rocky space object.
• Most asteroids are found in the asteroid
• The asteroid belt is located between the
orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
How many asteroids are there?
• There are about 40,000 known asteroids that are
over 0.5 miles (1 km) in diameter in the asteroid
belt About 3,000 asteroids have been cataloged.
• There are many smaller asteroids (100,000).
• Asteroids are made of metals, silicate, iron, nickel,
and carbon.
• The first one discovered (and the biggest) is
named Ceres; it was discovered in 1801.
• Asteroids range in size from tiny pebbles to about
578 miles (930 kilometers) in diameter (Ceres).
• Asteroids can be pulled out of their solar
orbit by the gravitational pull of a planet.
They would then orbit that planet instead of
orbiting the Sun.
• Astronomers theorize that the two moons of
Mars, Phobos and Deimos, are captured
Asteroid Strike
• Scientists hypothesize that one or more
large asteroids hit Earth 65 million years
ago and caused extinction of the dinosaurs.
• Scientists also hypothesize that the largest
mass extinction, 250 million years ago,
killing off 90% of all species was also
caused by a large asteroid.
Asteroid Exploration
• Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous- (NEAR)
mission is the first of NASA's Discovery missions
and the first mission ever to go into orbit around
an asteroid (launched 1996).
• Studies were made of the asteroid Eros’ size,
shape, mass, magnetic field, composition, and
surface and internal structure (last data signals
sent in 2001)
• Meteoroid-chunk of rock or dust in space.
• Meteoroids come from comets or asteroids.
• When a meteoroid enters Earth’s
atmosphere, friction with the air creates heat
and produces a streak of light that you can
see in the sky.
• A meteor is a meteoroid that enters Earth’s
atmosphere and burns up.
• Meteoroids that pass through the
atmosphere and hit Earth’s surface are
called meteorites.
• Classified by composition: stony, iron ,or
Video Clip on Meteor Showers
• Click view
What do we do if an NEO is
• Unknown… Still being experimented.
• Scientist are calculating ways to use nuclear
energy to divert an incoming object.
• High energy x-ray pulses produce a shock
wave to push the NEO in the opposite
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