The Nature of Comets

  • David W. Hughes
Part of the Springer Praxis Books book series (PRAXIS)


Our knowledge of comets has advanced hugely since the 1986 apparition of Comet Halley provided the spur to spacecraft investigation. But our understanding is still very much ‘skin deep’. The mass of the nucleus, the density of the nucleus and its internal structure and strength are poorly understood. Whether the physical and chemical properties vary from place to place in a specific cometary nucleus, or from comet to comet is still a mater of conjecture. Recent low-resolution images of nuclei surfaces are improving our understanding, but the real breakthrough will probably have to wait until a probe lands on a cometary surface in 2014, and until future probes return material to Earth some decades later. In this chapter we summarise our knowledge of the physical properties and chemical composition of the cometary nucleus paying special attention to the four comets that have had their nuclei imaged by spacecraft, these being comets Halley, Borrelly, Wild-2 and Tempel-1. Special attention is paid to the rate at which the cometary nucleus decays and the effect this has on cometary activity and the thickness of the allencompassing surface dust layer. The results of recent cometary space mission are summarised, special attention being paid to the Deep Impact mission to comet Tempel-1.


Solar System Dust Particle Heliocentric Distance Cometary Nucleus Dust Layer 
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Copyright information

© Praxis Publishing Ltd 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • David W. Hughes
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physics and AstronomyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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