Comets

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Naked Eye Appearance: Seeing a comet with the naked eye is a somewhat rare occurrance. On the average we get a naked-eye comet once every five or six years and this includes comets that become barely visible to the naked eye. Classic comets with long tails only appear about once every 10-12 years. The motion is very difficult to detect and comparing its place with naked-eye stars over several days is the only way to see it move. In general, comets are best observed with telescopes or binoculars. What are They? Comets are primarily composed of ice and dust, causing some astronomers to refer to them as "dirty snowballs." They typically move through the solar system in orbits ranging from a few years to several hundred thousand years. Comets are not on fire. As they near the sun, the sun's heat melts the comet's ices and releases dust particles which are most evident as the comet's tail. Comets rarely come within a few million miles of Earth and, thus, have a slow apparent motion across our sky. Typical comets remain visible for periods of several weeks up to several months. Example #1: This movie of C/1997 T1 (Utsunomiya) was obtained by Tim Puckett on 1997 October 7. It was obtained with a 60-cm reflector and shows the comet's motion over a period of about 75 minutes. The field of view is 9 x 9 arc minutes or about one-third the diameter of the full moon. Example #2: This movie of C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) was obtained by Tim Puckett on 1997 March 5. It was obtained with a 30-cm reflector and shows the comet's motion over a period of 66 minutes. The field of view is 22 x 22 arcmin or about three quarters of the diameter of the full moon. Example #3: This movie of C/1994 N1 (Nakamura-Nishimura-Machholz) was obtained by Dennis Luse and William McLaughlin on 1994 August. It was obtained with a 20.3-cm Ultima reflector with an ST5 CCD camera taking one-minute exposures every 5 minutes. It shows the comet's motion over a period of 85 minutes. The field of view is ?? x ?? arcmin. Interestingly, frame 9 shows the streak of a meteor that passed through the camera's field during the exposure. Meteors Naked Eye Appearance: Meteors appear as fast-moving streaks of light in the night sky. They are frequently referred to as "falling stars" or "shooting stars." Most are white or blue-white in appearance, although other frequent colors are yellow, orange.

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