, Volume 89, Issue 1-4, pp 325-343

Long-Period Comets and the Oort Cloud

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Long-period (LP) comets, Halley-type (HT) comets, and even some comets of the Jupiter family, probably come from the Oort cloud, a huge reservoir of icy bodies that surrounds the solar system. Therefore, these comets become important probes to learn about the distant Oort cloud population. We review the fundamental dynamical properties of LP comets, and what is our current understanding of the dynamical mechanisms that bring these bodies from the distant Oort cloud region to the inner planetary region. Most new comets have original reciprocal semimajor axes in the range2 × 10-5 < 1/aorig < 5 × 10-5AU-1. Yet, this cannot be taken to represent the actual space distribution of Oort cloud comets, but only the region in the energy space in which external perturbers have the greatest efficiency in bringing comets to the inner planetary region. The flux of Oort cloud comets in the outer planetary region is found to be at least several tens times greater than the flux in the inner planetary region. The sharp decrease closer to the Sun is due to the powerful gravitational fields of Jupiter and Saturn that prevent most Oort cloud comets from reaching the Earth’s neighborhood (they act as a dynamical barrier). A small fraction of ∼10-2 Oort cloud comets become Halley type (orbital periods P < 200 yr), and some of them can reach short-period orbits with P < 20 yr. We analyze whether we can distinguish the latter, very ‘old” LP comets, from comets of the Jupier family coming from the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.