Solar System Leftovers

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Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy
ASTR 101

Solar System Leftovers • Comets: very tiny objects that appear spectacular due to heat boiling off a cloud of gas (coma) that surrounds a central nucleus  These gases are very refractive and make the comet appear bright  Also fluorescent, meaning the gas absorbs UV light and reemits it as visible light  Tail of the comet does NOT point in the direction of motion, it always points away from the sun pushed there by solar wind  Composed of a variety of simple elements like a "dirty snowball", which eventually and gradually disappears with each passing near the sun  Low in mass = easily influenced by gravity of massive planets, which in turn brings comets closer to the sun (and to their death)  Halley's comet comes "from below" the solar system and does not go near the planets, and has survived for so long because of it  Halley is however eventually doomed in around 40,000 years  Oort cloud = large reservoir of comets orbiting the sun far out beyond Pluto  As it orbits, some comets get pulled out under influence of stars/planets gravity • Halley's Comet: Probes were send to observe it however this was difficult as it travels in a direction opposite to Earth's orbit, so no probe could travel fast enough to directly sample it  Probes sent to meet the comet head on, and there was no impact so pictures could be sent back  Comet Tempel: Part of a probe was sent to directly intersect this comet while the rest of the probe took pictures and chemical analysis  Cloud of debris produced fluorescence which allowed us to work out chemical composition by analyzing the spectrum Meteors: • Distinct difference between meteors (meteoroids that dissipate in the atmosphere producing light), meteoroids (rocks out in space) and meteorites (meteors that survive the journey through Earth's atmosphere and strike Earth)  The rock moving at high speed through the atmosphere causes the surrounding air to heat up, producing what we call shooting stars (we see heated air, NOT the pebble)  Rocks are not usually larger than the size of a pea, however there is occasionally a rock large enough to survive the journey through the atmosphere and cause damage  For every big thing, there are millions of little things; For every large space rocks, there are millions of small space rocks • Meteor Showers: a group of meteors all seemingly radiating from a single point as Earth passes through debris from comets that have been broken up by the sun  Meteor showers appear to come from a radiant point due to perspective, similar to how snow appears to fly at your windshield no matter which direction you drive  Usually named after the constellation behind the radiant  Example: Leonid meteor shower produces quite heavy meteor showers every 33 years, due to the fact that the comet that produced the debris had an orbital period of 33 years Asteroids: • Large chunks of space rocks that occasionally collide producing smaller space debris that can also become meteors  Wide belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, however even here they are so far apart no p
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