Comets are dirty snowballs composed of rock, frozen gas and ice that can be the size of a small town. Comets orbit the sun and when they get close enough, they begin to heat up, melt, and lose dust and gases which then form a tail. These tails can stretch out for millions of miles.[i] Astronomers are constantly finding new comets each year. How large can they get? How long do they last? Where do they come from? Can comets tell us something about the age and history of our solar system?
Comets are the building blocks for life because they contain dirt, frozen gas and ice just like the earth. They are leftovers from the formation of the planets and now originate from the Kuiper Belt or Oort cloud.[ii]
The Kuiper belt was theorized by Gerard Kuiper and states that there is a ring of comets that orbit around the sun past Neptune. These comets are pushed, or sent, inward due to gravity and collisions. These are called short-period comets, because they orbit the sun approximately every 200 years or less. Theoretically, there is an abundance of comets in the Kuiper belt just waiting to be sent in toward the center of the solar system or already making their trek around the sun. Therefore, these comets typically orbit along the same plane or disk as the rest of the planets, as we would expect from the naturalistic history of our solar system.[iii]
The search for Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) has been successful and NASA reports that “more than 1,300 KBOs have been identified since 1992.” NASA also reports that the Kuiper Belt is “probably populated with hundreds of thousands of icy bodies larger than 100 km (62 miles) across and an estimated trillion or more comets,” and “the Oort Cloud probably contains 0.1 to 2 trillion icy bodies in solar orbit.”[iv]
The Oort Cloud is the large spherical area around our sun that can extend 100,000 times the distance from the sun to the earth, as theoretically developed by astronomer Jan Oort. In this vast amount of space there are billions of these comets, or other objects, that have very unpredictable orbits around the sun and can take up to 30 million years to complete one trip. They are consequently called long-period comets and are often so far away that they cannot be viewed from Earth. Some of these comets do not orbit in the same plane as the planets and some even go in a retrograde motion, or moving backwards, compared to the way the planets circle the sun. These differences in orbits are probably due to collisions and other forces.[v]
It has been suggested that the interactions between the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud causes both short-period and long-period comets and thus solves the challenges with the origin of new, young comets.[vi]
Check back tomorrow for the Creation Answer. Thanks again for your constructive help.
by Brian Mariani and others
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[i] Charles Q. Choi, “Comets: Formation, Discovery and Exploration,” November 15, 2010, SPACE.com, http://www.space.com/53-comets-formation-discovery-and-exploration.html, accessed January 20, 2014.
[ii] NASA, “Comets: Overview, 10 Need-to-Know Things About Comets,” http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Comets, accessed January 20, 2014.
[iii] NASA, “Comets: Read More,” http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Comets&Display=OverviewLong, accessed January 20, 2014.
[iv] NASA, Kuiper Belt & Oort Cloud: Read More, http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=KBOs&Display=OverviewLong, accessed January 22, 2014.
[v] NASA, “Comets: Read More,” http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Comets&Display=OverviewLong, accessed January 20, 2014.
[vi] Danny Faulkner, “Comets and the Age of the Solar System,” December 1, 1997, Answers in Genesis, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/tj/v11/n3/comets, accessed January 20, 2014.