The Tale of a Comet’s Tail

We are a neglected bunch outside the heliosphere. Formed roughly at the same time as the planets, we were kicked out of the solar system by the heavy gas giants and have been hovering here ever since.

Fortunately, we are still well within the Milky Way galaxy. Since sun’s gravity doesn’t affect us much here, we are loosely bound to the solar system and are easily affected by outer space stars and the tidal forces of the galaxy itself.  Every now and then, a visiting star pulls us out of our mundane orbits and out we go, into deep space. With their help, we get to travel places no one has ever been to before. But it is the Milky Way’s gravitational pull that all of us look forward to. This galactic tide stretches towards the center of the galaxy and often hurtles us into the solar system for a beautiful sight-seeing trip.

From our place on the boundaries of the solar system, we had seen planets formed from clustering of rocks just like us, and always wonder why we were kicked out of the system before we had a chance to begin.

But we have something these planets do not.


The cold and cruel place we live in is far away from the warmness of the sun and the temperature here is perfect for ice to form. Whenever we are ejected into the solar system, we are warmed up by sun’s radiation. Its photons hit us in the nuclei, subliming the ice in us. Whether it does so out of hospitality or to bring life to other planets just like we did to Earth shall forever remain a mystery to us.

What the Sun seems to be unaware is that the pressures are so low in the vacuum that the boiling point of water is far below the melting point, which is why ice directly transforms to vapor without stopping by the liquid state.

NASA/JPL-Caltech. 2004. Web. 22 Sep. 2017.

So, if Sun’s plan is for us to sprinkle water on its planets as we pass by, it is in for quite a shock. We cannot, and do not plan to empty ourselves into the system unless we crash into a planet.

The fortunate ones among us who don’t give in to the strong gravitational pull of the planets have settled into highly elliptical orbits of hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years. We get to see the place where we were born and would have been living if it was not for Jupiter, among other culprits. During the formation of the solar system, a lot of huge bodies were forming but we were yet to crash into each other. Before we could, however, Jupiter pulled us with its huge gravitational pull and eventually pushed us out of the system.

When the sun’s radiation hits us, the vaporized ice seeps through the nucleus and onto the surface. Our speed then has it brushing past our surfaces, blowing material into space. Monoxides and dioxides of carbon that were trapped in us are released. A mixture of gas and dust, our tail extends for many kilometers.

NASA/JPL. Nasa and FEMA conduct asteroid impact planning exercise. 2016. Web. 22 Sep. 2017.

The sun’s pressure waves are responsible for our dust and gas developing their own distinct tails. While the gas tail is extremely straight and always away from the sun, the dust tail is not quite affected by the sun’s pressure and forms a curved path all through its journey. The dust reflects the sunlight and is visible from thousands of miles while the ionized gases glow serenely.

Comet Hale-Bopp. nd. Web. 22 Sep. 2017.

And at an extremely slow pace, we start diminishing.

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