Fast Facts on Comets and Meteors Size History Number and More

About comets, meteors, and meteorites history, numbers, size, information and more.


There are said to be 2 million comets in the solar system. The most famous, Halley's Comet, was last seen when it brushed earth in May, 1910. It will next be seen by earthlings in 1986.

The most publicized comet in history, Kohoutek, was seen by earthlings in January, 1974. Ten months earlier, an astronomer, Dr. Lubos Kohoutek, 1st spotted the celebrated comet when it was still 370 million mi. from earth. At one point, the comet's head (called a coma) was 330,000 mi. in size and its tail covered 30 million mi. From outer space, the Skylab astronauts photographed it, and the Mariner 10 spacecraft heading toward Venus measured it. Expectations were that Kohoutek, as it came zooming into the solar system, would be "as bright as the quarter moon." But its appearance provided a disappointing view of a faint and pale phantom. However, radio astronomers were not disappointed. "They had identified," reported National Geographic, "2 important compounds--methyl cyanide and hydrogen cyanide--never before seen in comets, but found in the reaches of space where new stars are being born." This proved that comets were formed not in planetary orbit within our solar system but in outer space far beyond the planets. But Kohoutek will return and earthlings will have another look at it--75,000 years from now.

Sizzling hot meteors--some huge fireballs, others mere specks--bombard earth's atmosphere at the rate of one million an hour. Only about 150 meteors a year break into earth's atmosphere and survive to hit the surface of the earth. Those that make it are called meteorites. The largest meteorite ever found on earth was one that landed at Hoba West in Southwest Africa. It weighed 132,000 lbs.

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