By Ron Miller

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Extra info for Asteroids, Comets and Meteors (Worlds Beyond)

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This implies the existence of a vast, spherical cloud of comets orbiting far beyond Pluto. It might contain, he calculated, at least 190 billion comets. 3 trillion km, 200,000 AU, or 3 light-years) from the Sun! 3 light years away, so it can be said that the outer limits of our solar system extend nearly three-quarters of the way to the next star in space. The Oort cloud is so far from the Sun that gravity has only the most tenuous hold upon the most distant objects in the cloud. These objects are very susceptible to the influence of the stars they pass, which might send one of the icebergs spiraling inward on a long journey toward the Sun.

Short-period comets, however, may have a different source. Most of these comets, unlike their long-period cousins, orbit the Sun close to the plane of the solar system. 4 years 1998 2006 Halley 76 years 1986 2062 * “Return” refers to when a comet comes into the inner solar system and makes its closest approach to the Sun. This region is usually called the Kuiper belt. 3 times the mass of Earth. 5 AU farther from the Sun than Pluto. By the end of the century, about 60 Kuiper belt objects had been discovered, with about 10 new ones being found every year.

The impacts were tremendously violent—the pieces struck Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of 37 miles (60 km) per second—creating titanic fireballs that were visible from Earth. 5 kilotons—18,000 times less powerful than the fragments that hit Jupiter). Long chains of craters on some of Jupiter’s moons suggest that impacts such as this have happened often in the past. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter on the side of the planet that was facing away from Earth, so astronomers were not able to see the actual impacts.

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