We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Comet?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A comet is a small astral body, similar in construction to a planet. Its orbit may at times bring it close to the sun and make it visible to the naked eye, or through relatively low strength telescopes, from Earth. When one can be viewed, it is usually noted as having a tail, made of gasses, which early astronomers often mistook for a shooting star.

Most observable comets in our solar system derive from the Oort Cloud, a hypothesized cloud made up of leavings from the sun. These materials form comets, which orbit the sun because they are affected by its gravitational pull. While passing by individual planets, the comet may be affected by the gravitational forces of the planets, thus causing an elliptical or oval-type orbit.

Usually, people on Earth see these astral bodies when they passes in between Earth and the sun. It is thought that the comet and its tail, sometimes called the coma and tail, reflect the light of the sun, enhancing their visibility. Since comets may orbit the sun in strange patterns, people may only see the passage of one in a lifetime.

In fact, comets are usually classed by the length of time it takes them to orbit the sun. A short period one takes up to about 200 years to make a full trip around the sun. A long period comet may take far more time to complete a trip.

For example, Halley’s Comet can be viewed on earth about every 75 years, which makes it part of the short period class. Its last sighting on Earth was in 1986, and it is expected to be seen again in 2061.

A planet may capture a comet, which can cause significant damage to the astral body. Such a gravitational capture may cause it to break into many small pieces, which can then hit the capturing planet. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was observed as broken in 1993, and astronomers were able to witness it hitting the atmosphere of Jupiter in 1994.

Most often, people looking at the night sky may think that they see “falling stars” that are actually meteors or comets. There are thousands of tiny ones that do not attract much interest. The once in a lifetime comets like Halley’s are often thought of as exciting, since most people will only see them with the naked eye once.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All The Science contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Oct 21, 2012
@Emilski - That really puts comets into perspective, and makes you wonder how powerful comets are and what type of damage it could inflict on the Earth.

I know movies have depicted these cataclysmic events, but how do we know these are accurate depictions of what would happen in a comet strike?

The only instance that mass damage was measured from what is believed to be a comet strike happened in Siberia around 1908 or 1909 and it took out several square miles and has still boggled the minds of scientists to this day, who wonder if it is even a comet strike or not.

I have to wonder if there are other instances of comet strikes or if they are that uncommon that scientists do not even know if it was a comet strike or not?

By Emilski — On Oct 21, 2012
Comets always seem to be a big event for amateur star gazers, even though they're not all that rare.

I am guessing that those that appreciate the sky look for anomalies, such as comets, and it gives them something else to look at in the sky.

However, those who are not appreciative of inter stellar events would look at a comet and just think that it happens every so often, so it is nothing special in the large scheme of things.

What people need to realize is that comets are amazing events and it puts the Earth into perspective as if it were to be struck by a comet it would be a world wide catastrophe, but we are lucky enough to see one from a safe distance.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 20, 2012
@jcraig - That's right -- and each comet that passes the Earth is special.

In my lifetime I have not seen Haley's comet and will not until I am 75 years old, but I have seen other less famous comets that varied in their orbit of the Earth.

Where I live, there is a comet that circles the Earth and becomes visible once every 3 to 5 years and there have been others that have come by that may never be visible again or will not be seen for tens of thousands of years.

By jcraig — On Oct 19, 2012

I have always been interested in comets and how they are anomalies in the sky.

I know that it is an uncommon events to see a comet, as one will become visible once every few years, no matter where someone is at in the world, and each one that goes by tells a different story and circles the Earth at different times.

By anon176237 — On May 15, 2011

I am doing a project about comets. Thanks for the information about it!

By kidd7461 — On May 26, 2009

Can anyone explain if there a plan for a newer voyager model and when was the first one used?

By lemmings — On Apr 21, 2008

Aren't there a lot of different superstitions and folklore stories around comets? I'd be really interested to hear some of them from around the world if anyone wants to share!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All The Science contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.