Oort cloud comets may be spinning themselves to death.

Oort cloud comets may be spinning themselves to death.

Comets are often referred to as "solar system deep freeze". The reason for this is that comets are composed of ices and dust and are thought to be left over from the formation of the solar system.

This suggestion could help solve a decades-old mystery about what destroys many “long-period” comets, astronomer David Jewitt reports in a study submitted August 8 to arXiv.org. Long-period comets originate in the Oort cloud, a sphere of icy objects at the solar system’s fringe (SN: 8/18

According to Jewitt, comets are stable in the Oort cloud, where nothing ever happens. However, when they come closer to the sun, they heat up and break apart.

Jan Oort first proposed the Oort cloud as a cometary reservoir in 1950. He realized that many of its comets that came near Earth were first-time visitors, not return travelers. Something was taking the comets out, but no one knew what

According to a new study, it's not that comets are necessarily breaking up as they orbit near the sun—it's that they're being torn apart by the sun's heat and gravity, and we're just seeing the pieces. This explanation fits with everything we've seen so far, the researchers say

“This one was special because it was slow enough that we could actually see it happening in real time, which is pretty amazing

He ran into that difficulty when he tried to observe Comet Leonard, a bright comet that put on a spectacular show in winter 2021–2022. Jewitt had applied for time to observe the comet with the Hubble Space Telescope in April and June 2022. But by February, the comet had already disintegrated. “That was a

Astronomer Dave Jewitt of UCLA has been watching comets for a long time. In fact, he's been studying them for over 40 years. Recently, he's been focused on comets that come close to the sun, specifically those that have been observed since the year 2000. Jewitt and his team used an instrument called SWAN on NASA's SOHO spacecraft to measure the amount of water vapor production of these comets. They also looked

Guy Webster, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has a hobby: He

All comets are born when a big chunk of ice and dust in space gets hit by something and breaks apart. Over time, the force of the sun’s heat and light causes the ice to vaporize, and the comet starts to "puff away

The sun is the closest star to Earth and is uniquely placed to have a profound impact on our planet. It is the largest object

It wasn’t that the comets were torn apart by the sun’s gravity or that they simply sublimated until they went poof. The comets are also unlikely to collide with anything else in the vastness of space and break apart that way. And a previous suggestion that pressure builds up inside the comets until they explode like a hand grenade doesn’t make sense to Jewitt. Comets’ upper few centimeters of material would absorb most of the sun’s heat, he says, so it would be difficult to heat the center of the comet enough for

But as the core rotates faster, it flings out material and the comet starts to disintegrate. The best remaining explanation for the disappearance of comet P/2010 R2 (La Sagra), Jewitt says, is rotational breakup. As the comet nears the sun and its water heats up enough to sub

It's believed that the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is actually a giant storm that's been raging for centuries. And according to new research, the storm might be

The rotation speed of a comet can spell doom for the space rock, according to a new study. Researchers found that if a comet is spinning too fast, it could break apart

But comets are fragile. If you held a fist-sized comet in front of your face, a sneeze would destroy it, says planetary astronomer Nalin Samarasinha of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, who was not

It's no secret that comets are in trouble. In recent years, several studies have shown that the population of comets in our solar system is dwindling, and that comets are disappearing at an alarming rate

Catalina Samarsinha is an astronomer who is known for her work on comets. She is currently working on a project to observe comets with the Vera Rubin Observatory. The Vera Rubin Observatory is a new telescope

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