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A comet is a lump of icy material and dust which becomes visible when it approaches the Sun.
Comets get their name from the Greek word, "kometes", meaning a long-haired star.
The heat of the Sun makes material evaporate from the comet, forming a cloudy coma around the icy nucleus.
When the ice in the nucleus begins to evaporate it produces a long tail.
A comets tail always points away from the Sun no matter which direction it is travelling. This is due to the solar-wind from the Sun.
Comets are thought to have been stored in the oort cloud since the formation of the Solar System.
Often a passing star will come into contact with the Oort cloud and disturb it, thus sending comets towards the Sun, where the gravitational influence of Jupiter and the other giant planets may capture them into relatively short-period orbits.
This can have devestating implications, as with what happened to Jupiter in july 1994 when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted with the jovian giant. It fragmented into twenty-one pieces.
There may be as many as 100 million comets in the Kuiper Belt, some of which may have been fed from the Oort cloud.
Long period comets are thought to fall in directly from the Oort cloud.
The material that makes up the coma and tail all comes from the evaporation of the nucleus. So it gets smaller each time it passes near the Sun.
Comets leave a trail of dust particles. Which results in meteor showers (shooting stars) each time the Earth runs into them.
Short-period comets have orbits that take less than 200 years to complete. And, long-period comets can take anywhere between 200 years and several million years to complete.
There's several comets visible this year.
Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 will be a bright, naked-eye comet visible in May.
Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, and, Comet Faye will be visible in june and november respectively. Both are of the tenth magnitude so neither will be visible without a telescope.

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