Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 102, Issue 1–4, pp 505–520 | Cite as

Mostly Dormant Comets and their Disintegration into Meteoroid Streams: A Review

  • Peter JenniskensEmail author


The history of associating meteor showers with asteroidal-looking objects is long, dating to before the 1983 discovery that 3200 Phaethon moves among the Geminids. Only since the more recent recognition that 2003 EH1 moves among the Quadrantids are we certain that dormant comets are associated with meteoroid streams. Since that time, many orphan streams have found parent bodies among the newly discovered Near Earth Objects. The seven established associations pertain mostly to showers in eccentric or highly inclined orbits. At least 35 other objects are tentatively linked to streams in less inclined orbits that are more difficult to distinguish from those of asteroids. There is mounting evidence that the streams originated from discrete breakup events, rather than long episodes of gradual water vapor outgassing. If all these associations can be confirmed, they represent a significant fraction of all dormant comets that are in near-Earth orbits, suggesting that dormant comets break at least as frequently as the lifetime of the streams. I find that most pertain to NEOs that have not yet fully decoupled from Jupiter. The picture that is emerging is one of rapid disintegration of comets after being captured by Jupiter, and consequently, that objects such as 3200 Phaethon most likely originated from among the most primitive asteroids in the main belt, instead. They too decay mostly by disintegration into comet fragments and meteoroid streams. The disintegration of dormant comets is likely the main source of our meteor showers and the main supply of dust to the zodiacal cloud.


Meteor shower Meteoroid stream Comet Asteroid Near-Earth Object Minor planet Comet-asteroid transition object Interplanetary dust Comet fragmentation Zodiacal cloud 



This paper was greatly improved by helpful comments from editor Frans Rietmeijer, as well as from Peter Brown and an anonymous reviewer. I thank NASA’s Planetary Astronomy program and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s IRAD program for partial support of this research effort.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Carl Sagan CenterSETI InstituteMountain ViewUSA

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