5 Famous Comets That Can Be Seen From Earth

Space. A confusing topic, little of which we know about, compared to the vast size of it. There are many celestial objects out there in space. Comets are one of them. Giants balls of ice, dust and gas, travelling around the universe. Every once in a while, they pass Earth, and give us a glimpse of what else must lie out there. Here are some of the most famous comets, in no particular order.

1 Halley’s Comet


This is perhaps one of the most famous comets in the world.  It has a regular orbit period of around 75-76 years, meaning that a lot of people may have the opportunity to view it. It was last seen in 1986, and as a result, its predicted return date is 2061/2. Halley’s comet is in fact named after Edmond Halley, a British astronomer who first determined the comet’s existence, and orbit period. Unfortunately, he did not live to see it when it did return, in 1758.

2 Hyakutake


Also known as the Great Comet of 1996, Hyakutake is another well-known comet. It was one of the closest comets to pass Earth for about 200 years. It was originally expected back in approximately 15 000 years. However, more recent studies have shown that this may be extended to more than 100 000 years due to the comet being gravitationally deflected by other planets. Too long of a wait for most people…

3 Swift-Tuttle


Swift-Tuttle has an orbit period of around 133 years. It was last seen in 1997, and is predicted to return in 2126. However, there was some controversy over the potential threat of Swift-Tuttle impacting Earth, as it orbited on a path which travelled close to the Earth and Moon. More advanced research have quietened down this issue, however, by claiming that the comet  will pose no harm to the planet for at least another 2000 years.

4 Hale-Bopp


Comet Hale-Bopp has an orbital period of 2533 years, and was last seen in 1997. Some of you may have already worked out that this comet is therefore due back in 4531 (a long time to come).  It’s name, like Halley’s Comet, comes from the astronomers who discovered it – Alan Hale and Tom Bopp. In terms of visibility, it is thought that 81% of Americans at that time were able to see the comet of Hale-Bopp.

5 Shoemaker Levy-9


Shoemaker Levy-9 (although technically not a comet anymore) generated world-wide media interest. This was due to its collision with Jupiter, in July 1994. It had been orbiting Jupiter for some time, as it had been caught by the gravitational pull of the planet, whilst in orbit around the sun. However, in 1994, the comet edged to close to Jupiter, and eventually broke apart. For some time, the wounds of the impact were clearly visible on Jupiter (even more than the Red Spot). This helps put into perspective the sheer force involved in the collision of this famous comet.

Thumbnail image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | CC BY 2.0

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