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Comets and the Origin of Life

Comets and the Origin of Life


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Published by sharad_khandelwal_2

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: sharad_khandelwal_2 on Sep 05, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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In urban areas, where stars are barely visible, comets are almost never

seen. However, away from street lights, about one comet in an average

year is visible as a naked eye object. It usually appears in the sky as a

faint, hazy patch, sometimes described as ghostly. It will cross the sky,

moving against the background of constellations over a period of weeks

to months. As it approaches the Sun, it will brighten and develop one or

more tails, and these may sometimes be quite long. On rare occasions, a

brilliant comet will appear, developing a smoky, dark-red tail which may

sometimes seem to split the sky in two. A great comet can be seen in

broad daylight. Such monsters, silently drifting across the sky, have in

the past given rise to fear, consternation and thundering sermons from

pulpits. It is, after all, an irruption into the established order of the

heavens, and surely portends some dramatic event on Earth.

About 1500 apparitions of comets have been recorded, half of them

being comets which have never returned nor, for the most part, are

expected to. The recorded annual influx of these long-period comets (by

convention, with orbital periods P > 200 years) has not changed much

over the last 200 years, and corresponds to an Earth-crossing flux of

about 0.8–0.9 comets/AU/yr brighter than absolute magnitude 7,

comparable with Halley’s Comet. Probably about 1.5 such comets pass

within the orbit of Jupiter every year. The absolute magnitude of a comet

nucleus is defined from:

Astrobiology, Comets and the Origin of Life


m =H


10∆ +10log


where m represents its apparent magnitude, H10 is the absolute

magnitude, ∆ is the distance from the comet to the Earth and r is the Sun-

comet distance. The returns of Halley’s Comet, a periodic comet with

orbital period 76 years, have been recorded for about 2000 years. It is an

extremely dark object (albedo 0.03±0.01) measuring 16×8×8 km. It loses

volatiles from a few vents which amount to less than 10% of its surface.

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