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Famous Comets

COMET HALLEY

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Probably the most famous of all comets is the one discovered by Edmund Halley. Halley used Newtons law of motion to predict the return of the comet that was seen in 1531, 1607, and 1682. Halley theorized that comets moved in an elliptical orbit around the sun and would pass at the same point. Although he would be dead for fifteen years, the comet that now bears his name did reappear as he predicted in December of 1758, and proved his theory. Comet Halley was last seen in 1986 and will return in 2061. The comets nucleus is 16x8xx8 km. The comet is also very dark and it is theorized that it mainly consists of dust because the majority of the water ice has sublimed away.

COMET SHOEMAKER-LEVY 9

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Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was discovered by astronomers Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy on March 23, 1993. This was the ninth comet this team had discovered. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was a unique comet. It was the first comet found to be orbiting another body (Jupiter) other than the Sun. In addition, when Shoemaker-Levy 9 was discovered it was in fragments. This was caused when the comet passed to closely to Jupiter in 1992 and was pulled apart by the planets tidal forces. In July of 1993, the fragmented Shoemaker-Levy 9 began pummeling Jupiter’s surface creating a spectacular show of gas bubbles and plumes. Jupiter now has brown spots where Shoemaker-Levy struck. The collision of Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter gave credence to the theory that Jupiter strong gravitational pull is responsible for pulling bodies such as comets into its surface.

COMET HALE-BOPP

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The Hale-Bopp comet was discovered by two amateur astromonor in July of 1995. Dubbed the Great Comet of 1997, it is the most viewed comet ever. Hale-Bopp is a very large comet and is one of the brightest comets ever observed and has set records for sustained brightness. Hale-Bopp is almost exactly twice the size of Halley's Comet having a nucleus of twenty-five miles and an estimated diameter of 40-50 miles. Hale-Bopp is also unique because it has three tails. Comets normally have two tails, a dust tail and an ion tail. Hale-Bopp additional tail is made up of neutral sodium atoms. This tail produces yellow tinted glow. Hale-Bopp has also had its share of controversy and was linked to the suicide deaths of thirty-nine members of the Heavens Gate cult located in California. This cult believed that a spaceship was traveling along side Hale-Bopp on its way to earth to pick them up. Hale-Bopp will not return to Earth until the year 4397.

COMET HYAKUTAKE

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Amateur comet hunter Yuji Hyakutake discovered his comet on January 30, 1996 using only a pair of binoculars. Comet Hyakutake was the brightest comet to be observed since Comet West in 1976 and was visible to the naked eye. Scientists also discovered some unique attributes of Comet Hyaktuke. Comet Hyakutake emitted x-rays and had large quantities of ethane and methane. Scientists believe that these chemical indicate that Comet Hyakutake was formed differently than the traditional comet. Comet Hyaktuke will not return to the inner solar system for 14,000 years. Unfortunately, Mr. Hyakutake died in 2002 of a heart attack at the age of 51.

Comet Tempel 1

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Comet Tempel was discovered by Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht in April 1867. The comet is approximately four miles wide with an orbit of 5 and half years. Although not currently as well known as Halleys comet, this could change July 4th 2005, when NASA Deep Impact mission comes to fruition with the launch of an 820-pound projectile into the comets surface. It is estimated that the collision will be at speeds of over 23,000 miles an hour. The Deep Impact spacecraft will observe the collision and will continue to send pictures back to Earth 24 hours after the collision. Scientists hope to learn more of the makeup of the comets nucleus and surface. They also hope to learn how craters are formed and what takes place during impact.