A fiery ball shoots across the sky every 75 years. It’s not a fireball, though. It is Halley’s Comet. And soon you’ll be riding along with it. Get ready to travel to the edge of the Solar System by circumnavigating the Sun and back once more.
What kind of conditions would you encounter there? How would you survive in your new chilly home? What does it have in common with a vacation to a Hawaiian island?
Comets are the frozen relics of our Solar System’s creation, which occurred approximately 4.6 billion years ago. They are composed of dust, rock, and ice. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and levels of infamy.
Even though comets can appear to be enormous in the sky, their average diameter is just approximately 10 km, making them considerably smaller than most other objects orbiting the Sun.
The way comets orbit the sun is very different from how planets do. While planets typically have relatively circular orbits, comets have extremely eccentric orbits that extend from close to the Sun to the furthest reaches of our solar system.
Some of the comets’ orbits aren’t even elliptical; they simply make one approach to the solar system before disappearing forever. The orbits’ orientations to the ecliptic are also somewhat haphazard; they might approach the Sun from just about any angle.
Most comets have this core or nucleus when they are found in the outer solar system (beyond Jupiter’s orbit). They don’t always stay as tiny, filthy, frozen icebergs, either.
So, let’s get into an introduction before we take a ride on the piece of rock!
Halley’s Comet: Brief Introduction
Halley’s comet first appeared in the night sky in August of 1835. The comet’s spectacular flare, which appeared around every 74 years, was known for making a splash. No different this time.
Halley’s Comet, technically known as 1P/Halley, is perhaps the most well-known. It was the first comet that astronomers believed would return. More specifically, astronomer Edmond Halley discovered this in the 18th century. According to his estimates, the comet returns to our night sky every 75 years.
Its most recent flyby of Earth occurred in 1986, and you can expect to see it again in 2061. There will be plenty of time for you to prepare to catch a ride on an icy rock. But be cautious. You won’t return to Earth until the year 2136. When you board Halley’s Comet, you will not be the first mission to land on a comet.
The Rosetta mission, launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, aims to track a comet as it travels around the Sun. They were successful in placing a lander on the comet’s surface ten years later. However, you would be the first person to meet a comet with a human crew.
The Orionid meteor shower produces “shooting stars,” which are space debris and ice crystals that come from Halley’s Comet. Every 75 years or so, this well-studied comet passes by close to Earth.
A fire that burned for several nights in New York City was attributed to Halley. Looking up at the comet’s lengthy tail, the Seminole Indians of Florida connected it to the day they would lose their hegemony. Meanwhile, Latin America as a whole saw revolutions.
What to Expect on Halley’s Comet
Image by: Neale LaSalle/ pexels
The trail that this evaporated material leaves can become extremely large and form tails because of the comet’s relatively rapid speed and the intensity of the solar winds. While the tails can be up to 1 A. U. in size (1 A. U. is equal to around 100 million miles), the coma can be thousands of times (or more) larger than the cometary nuclei.
Large volumes of gas and dust would be the first thing you would encounter as your spaceship approached Halley’s Comet. Someone should please send a house cleaner over. This mixture of gas and dust creates an atmosphere that extends millions of kilometres behind the comet.
Dust specks would be tiny, only one millionth the size of a smoke speck. This would undoubtedly make your approach to the comet a little more difficult, even though you would be safe within your spaceship.
Your ship’s shield would be hit by dust particles travelling at around 241,400 km/h (150,000 mph). Cross your fingers that they won’t take apart your craft as they did to one unfortunate space probe back in 1986.
If they did, the mission as a whole might be in danger. Not to mention, you might momentarily lose touch with Earth and command of your ship.
You’d be in for a crazy ride with around 60 tons of dust shooting off the comet per second. However, you would eventually succeed in landing on the comet’s nucleus, which resembles a potato or an unshelled peanut. You would encounter a significant surprise here.
First of all, a comet’s nucleus is what remains after all the gas and dust have been removed. And this particular comet’s nucleus has a surface area that is roughly equal to that of the Hawaiian island of Lanai.
You could have invited several friends and family members along even though you would be going alone on your trip. Maybe the next time. But there would be even another surprise for you.
Even though you would have expected something made of ice to be brilliant and white, you would find the surface to be more akin to an extremely filthy snowball. That’s because there is a thick layer of blacker-than-coal dust covering everything!
The comet appears as an amorphous object covered in a thick layer of black dust that has been warmed by the sun to a surface temperature of roughly 85 degrees, concealing a core of dirty ice.
As a result, Halley’s Comet is one of the Solar System’s least-reflecting objects. Only around 3% of the light that hits it is reflected. You’d want to take great care when you started to look around your surroundings. For you to be able to freely move around, the surface gravity would be much too low. You would launch into space if you leapt as high as you would on Earth.
Trust me, there are more shocks to come!
Will a Ride on Halley’s Comet Be Bumpy?
I hope you didn’t see yourself jumping on a trampoline as you travelled through the solar system. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a chance that you could unintentionally bounce off.
Although the speed at which Halley’s Comet revolves on its axis is unknown, there would be a transitional time from day to night. You should try to spend as much time on the nightside as possible to keep yourself secure.
You already know that the comet is heated by the Sun because of your risky approach. The gas and dust are discharged from its surface when it heats up. Additionally, they might take you along.
As you approach the Sun, your speed will increase, so you’d better fasten your seatbelt. You would be travelling at roughly 196,000 km/h as you rounded this first stop on your journey (122,000 mph).
How Hot Will the Ride Be?
Hopefully, you would have a reliable temperature regulator in your spacecraft. The dusty black surface’s ability to absorb heat would cause Halley’s Comet to reach a scorching 87°C (189 °F) in temperature.
But as you move farther from the Sun, the temperature would drop. The Kuiper Belt has temperatures as low as -220°C (-364 °F), which you would eventually encounter after passing by Mars, the gas giants, and the ice giants.
What Do You Need to Stay Alive on Halley’s Comet?
You would require tools to create breathing air and drinkable water from the comet’s water ice supply if you intended to remain alive for the duration of your journey.
You might generate electricity from the kinetic energy of the comet itself to keep everything working smoothly. Keep in mind that your trip is lengthy—75 years or more. You would also significantly slow down when you approached the outer reaches of our Solar System.
Comets lose mass with each orbit around the Sun because they are composed of material that is easily vaporized by the Sun. One per cent of their masses are susceptible to being blown away. Comets may begin by being extremely icy, but this is not how they will remain for very long because the ice is the first to melt.
At barely 3,200 km/h, you would be crawling here (2,000 mph). And now, as you set off on the arduous voyage back to Earth, you’d get a first-person view of Halley’s Comet disintegrating. It loses anywhere between 1 and 3 m (3 and 10 feet) of material with each loop it completes.
The maximum number of orbits around the Sun that comets may endure is 1,000, according to scientists. However, Halley has been in its current orbit for 16,000 years and has had around 210 rotations, so it has not aged significantly.
Just don’t put too much money into real estate on this rocky, gloomy mass. Your great-great-great-grandchildren might eventually be left with little more than a comet that is disintegrating every second. You may purchase a piece of land on the Moon instead.
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