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This is a drawing of what a comet might look like flying through space.
Click on image for full size
Dr. Micheal Belton

The Tumbling of the Comet Nucleus

As the comet approaches the sun, during its passage through space it will rotate, spin, and tumble. The motion of the comet causes different sides to be exposed to the sun's warmth. The movies below show different sorts of nucleus shapes tuumbling through space as they approach the sun.

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Cool It! Game

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When a comet comes close to the Sun

When comets are kicked out of the Oort Cloud, they begin a passage into the solar system, spinning and tumbling as they come. As the comet comes closer to the sun, near the region of space occupied by...more

Comet Hale-Bopp

Comet Hale-Bopp was one of the brightest comets of all time. Astronomers witnessed the comet spew out intermittent bursts of dust. The surface seemed to be an incredibly dynamic place, with 'vents' being...more

Missions to Halley's comet in 1986

Six spacecraft flew to Halley's comet in 1986. There were two spacecraft launched from Japan, named Suisei and Sakigake, and two from the Soviet Union, named Vega 1 & 2. One spacecraft, ICE, was from the...more

The Jupiter family of comets

Astronomers have noticed a group of comets which they call the Jupiter Family of Comets. This family of comets is to be found circling between Jupiter and the sun, as shown in this picture. The comets...more

What we learned from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Scientists have learned a great deal from the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Scientists traced the orbit of the comet backwards in time to guess its origin. The crash of a comet like Shoemaker-Levy 9...more

The trajectory of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 over time

Mathematical theory suggests that comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was likely a short-period comet which was captured into orbit around Jupiter in 1929. This orbit ended with a collision of the comet with Jupiter...more

The Comet Coma

As the ices of the comet nucleus evaporate, they expand into a large cloud around the middle part of the comet. This cloud, called the coma, is the atmosphere of the comet. It can extend for millions of...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF