Because comets can be seen so easily, records of the observation of comets can be traced back over many centuries. It was from a study of the historical observations of several comets that Halley, using Newton's new theory of gravitation, showed that the orbits of several comets around the Sun were almost identical. He postulated that they were all the same object and predicted that it would be seen again at a certain time in the future. As we know, Halley's comet did reappear around the predicted date and has been seen since then on each of its journeys in towards the Sun.
Comets, as seen from the Earth, appear to have some sort of nucleus which is surrounded by a bright, more or less circular region called the ‘coma’ from which one or more tails may be seen spreading out away from the direction to the Sun. These tails when photographed can be seen to be different colours. There is often a filamentary structured tail which is bluish and a series of more amorphous tails which are yellowish. The supposed nucleus of the comet is the bright centre of the coma. The coma and the tails develop markedly as the comet gets closer to the Sun with tail lengths sometimes growing as long as 100 million kilometres.
The Orbits of Comets
The first computation of cometary orbits was made by Halley, as mentioned above. Since then the orbits of many hundreds of comets have been determined. They almost all fall into two types; periodic orbits, which take the form of very eccentric ellipses, and parabolic... [continues]
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