The Oort cloud, named after the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, sometimes called the Öpik–Oort cloud, is a hypothetical cloud of predominantly icy planetesimals proposed to surround the Sun at distances ranging from 2,000 to 200,000 AU. It is divided into two regions: a spherical outer Oort cloud. Both regions lie in interstellar space; the Kuiper belt and the scattered disc, the other two reservoirs of trans-Neptunian objects, are less than one thousandth as far from the Sun as the Oort cloud. The outer limit of the Oort cloud defines the cosmographical boundary of the Solar System and the extent of the Sun's Hill sphere; the outer Oort cloud is only loosely bound to the Solar System, thus is affected by the gravitational pull both of passing stars and of the Milky Way itself. These forces dislodge comets from their orbits within the cloud and send them toward the inner Solar System. Based on their orbits, most of the short-period comets may come from the scattered disc, but some may still have originated from the Oort cloud.
Astronomers conjecture that the matter composing the Oort cloud formed closer to the Sun and was scattered far into space by the gravitational effects of the giant planets early in the Solar System's evolution. Although no confirmed direct observations of the Oort cloud have been made, it may be the source of all long-period and Halley-type comets entering the inner Solar System, many of the centaurs and Jupiter-family comets as well; the existence of the Oort cloud was first postulated by Estonian astronomer Ernst Öpik in 1932. Oort independently proposed it in 1950. There are two main classes of comet: long-period comets. Ecliptic comets have small orbits, below 10 AU, follow the ecliptic plane, the same plane in which the planets lie. All long-period comets have large orbits, on the order of thousands of AU, appear from every direction in the sky. A. O. Leuschner in 1907 suggested that many comets believed to have parabolic orbits, thus making single visits to the solar system had elliptical orbits and would return after long periods.
In 1932 Estonian astronomer Ernst Öpik postulated that long-period comets originated in an orbiting cloud at the outermost edge of the Solar System. Dutch astronomer Jan Oort independently revived the idea in 1950 as a means to resolve a paradox: Over the course of the Solar System's existence the orbits of comets are unstable, dynamics dictate that a comet must either collide with the Sun or a planet or else be ejected from the Solar System by planetary perturbations. Moreover, their volatile composition means that as they approach the Sun, radiation boils the volatiles off until the comet splits or develops an insulating crust that prevents further outgassing. Thus, Oort reasoned, a comet could not have formed while in its current orbit and must have been held in an outer reservoir for all of its existence, he noted that there was a peak in numbers of long-period comets with aphelia of 20,000 AU, which suggested a reservoir at that distance with a spherical, isotropic distribution. Those rare comets with orbits of about 10,000 AU have gone through one or more orbits through the Solar System and have had their orbits drawn inward by the gravity of the planets.
The Oort cloud is thought to occupy a vast space from somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 AU to as far as 50,000 AU from the Sun. Some estimates place the outer edge at between 100,000 and 200,000 AU; the region can be subdivided into a spherical outer Oort cloud of 20,000–50,000 AU, a torus-shaped inner Oort cloud of 2,000–20,000 AU. The outer cloud is only weakly bound to the Sun and supplies the long-period comets to inside the orbit of Neptune; the inner Oort cloud is known as the Hills cloud, named after Jack G. Hills, who proposed its existence in 1981. Models predict that the inner cloud should have tens or hundreds of times as many cometary nuclei as the outer halo; the Hills cloud explains the continued existence of the Oort cloud after billions of years. The outer Oort cloud may have trillions of objects larger than 1 km, billions with absolute magnitudes brighter than 11, with neighboring objects tens of millions of kilometres apart, its total mass is not known, assuming that Halley's Comet is a suitable prototype for comets within the outer Oort cloud the combined mass is 3×1025 kilograms, or five times that of Earth.
Earlier it was thought to be more massive, but improved knowledge of the size distribution of long-period comets led to lower estimates. The mass of the inner Oort cloud has not been estimated. If analyses of comets are representative of the whole, the vast majority of Oort-cloud objects consist of ices such as water, ethane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. However, the discovery of the object 1996 PW, an object whose appearance was consistent with a D-type asteroid in an orbit typical of a long-period comet, prompted theoretical research that suggests that the Oort cloud population consists of one to two percent asteroids. Analysis of the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in both the long-period and Jupiter-family comets shows little difference between the two, despite their vastly s
The kilometre, or kilometer is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one thousand metres. It is now the measurement unit used for expressing distances between geographical places on land in most of the world. K is used in some English-speaking countries as an alternative for the word kilometre in colloquial writing and speech. A slang term for the kilometre in the US and UK military is klick. There are two common pronunciations for the word; the former follows a pattern in English whereby metric units are pronounced with the stress on the first syllable and the pronunciation of the actual base unit does not change irrespective of the prefix. It is preferred by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Many scientists and other users in countries where the metric system is not used, use the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable; the latter pronunciation follows the stress pattern used for the names of measuring instruments. The problem with this reasoning, however, is that the word meter in those usages refers to a measuring device, not a unit of length.
The contrast is more obvious in countries using the British rather than American spelling of the word metre. When Australia introduced the metric system in 1975, the first pronunciation was declared official by the government's Metric Conversion Board. However, the Australian prime minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, insisted that the second pronunciation was the correct one because of the Greek origins of the two parts of the word. By the 8 May 1790 decree, the Constituent assembly ordered the French Academy of Sciences to develop a new measurement system. In August 1793, the French National Convention decreed the metre as the sole length measurement system in the French Republic; the first name of the kilometre was "Millaire". Although the metre was formally defined in 1799, the myriametre was preferred to the "kilometre" for everyday use; the term "myriamètre" appeared a number of times in the text of Develey's book Physique d'Emile: ou, Principes de la science de la nature, while the term kilometre only appeared in an appendix.
French maps published in 1835 had scales showing myriametres and "lieues de Poste". The Dutch gave it the local name of the mijl, it was only in 1867 that the term "kilometer" became the only official unit of measure in the Netherlands to represent 1000 metres. Two German textbooks dated 1842 and 1848 give a snapshot of the use of the kilometre across Europe - the kilometre was in use in the Netherlands and in Italy and the myriametre was in use in France. In 1935, the International Committee for Weights and Measures abolished the prefix "myria-" and with it the "myriametre", leaving the kilometre as the recognised unit of length for measurements of that magnitude. In the United Kingdom, road signs show distances in miles and location marker posts that are used for reference purposes by road engineers and emergency services show distance references in unspecified units which are kilometre-based; the advent of the mobile phone has been instrumental in the British Department for Transport authorising the use of driver location signs to convey the distance reference information of location marker posts to road users should they need to contact the emergency services.
In the US, the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 prohibits the use of federal-aid highway funds to convert existing signs or purchase new signs with metric units. The Executive Director of the US Federal Highway Administration, Jeffrey Paniati, wrote in a 2008 memo: "Section 205 of the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 prohibited us from requiring any State DOT to use the metric system during project development activities. Although the State DOT's had the option of using metric measurements or dual units, all of them abandoned metric measurements and reverted to sole use of inch-pound values." The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices since 2000 is published in both metric and American Customary Units. Some sporting disciplines feature 1000 m races in major events, but in other disciplines though world records are catalogued, the one kilometre event remains a minority event; the world records for various sporting disciplines are: Conversion of units, for comparison with other units of length Cubic metre Metric prefix Mileage Odometer Orders of magnitude Square kilometre Media related to Distance indicators at Wikimedia Commons
A minor-planet moon is an astronomical object that orbits a minor planet as its natural satellite. As of February 2019, there are 352 minor planets suspected to have moons. Discoveries of minor-planet moons are important because the determination of their orbits provides estimates on the mass and density of the primary, allowing insights of their physical properties, not otherwise possible; the first modern era mention of the possibility of an asteroid satellite was in connection with an occultation of the bright star Gamma Ceti by the asteroid 6 Hebe in 1977. The observer, amateur astronomer Paul D. Maley, detected an unmistakable 0.5 second disappearance of this naked eye star from a site near Victoria, Texas. Many hours several observations were reported in Mexico attributed to the occultation by 6 Hebe itself. Although not confirmed, this documents the first formally documented case of a suspected companion of an asteroid. In addition to the terms satellite and moon, the term "binary" is sometimes used for minor planets with moons, "triple" for minor planets with two moons.
If one object is much bigger it can be referred to as the primary and its companion as secondary. The term double asteroid is sometimes used for systems in which the asteroid and its moon are the same size, while binary tends to be used independently from the relative sizes of the components; when binary minor planets are similar in size, the Minor Planet Center refers to them as "binary companions" instead of referring to the smaller body as a satellite. A good example of a true binary is the 90 Antiope system, identified in August 2000. Small satellites are referred to as moonlets. Prior to the era of the Hubble Space Telescope and space probes reaching the outer Solar System, attempts to detect satellites around asteroids were limited to optical observations from Earth. For example, in 1978, stellar occultation observations were claimed as evidence of a satellite for the asteroid 532 Herculina; however more-detailed imaging by the Hubble Telescope did not reveal a satellite, the current consensus is that Herculina does not have a significant satellite.
There were other similar reports of asteroids having companions in the following years. A letter in Sky & Telescope magazine at this time pointed to simultaneous impact craters on Earth, suggesting that these craters were caused by pairs of gravitationally bound objects. In 1993, the first asteroid moon was confirmed when the Galileo probe discovered the small Dactyl orbiting 243 Ida in the asteroid belt; the second was discovered around 45 Eugenia in 1998. In 2001, 617 Patroclus and its same-sized companion Menoetius became the first known binary asteroids in the Jupiter trojans; the first trans-Neptunian binary after Pluto–Charon, 1998 WW31, was optically resolved in 2002. Triple or trinary minor planets, are known since 2005, when the asteroid 87 Sylvia was discovered to have two satellites, making it the first known triple system; this was followed by the discovery of a second moon orbiting 45 Eugenia. In 2005, the dwarf planet Haumea was discovered to have two moons, making it the second trans-Neptunian object after Pluto known to have more than one moon.
Additionally, 216 Kleopatra and 93 Minerva were discovered to be trinary asteroids in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Since the first few triple minor planets were discovered, more continue to be discovered at a rate of about one a year. Most discovered were two moons orbiting large near-earth asteroid 3122 Florence, bringing the number of known trinary systems in the Solar System up to 14; the following table lists all satellites of triple systems chronologically by their discovery date, starting with Charon, discovered in 1978. The data about the populations of binary objects are still patchy. In addition to the inevitable observational bias the frequency appears to be different among different categories of objects. Among asteroids, an estimated 2% would have satellites. Among trans-Neptunian objects, an estimated 11% are thought to be binary or multiple objects, the majority of the large TNOs have at least one satellite, including all four IAU-listed dwarf planets. More than 50 binaries are known in each of the main groupings: near-Earth asteroids, belt asteroids, trans-Neptunian objects, not including numerous claims based on light-curve variation.
Two binaries have been found so far among centaurs with semi-major axes smaller than Neptune. Both are double ring systems around 2060 Chiron and 10199 Chariklo, discovered in 1994–2011 and 2013 respectively; the origin of minor-planet moons is not known with certainty, a variety of theories exist. A accepted theory is that minor-planet moons are formed from debris knocked off of the primary by an impact. Other pairings may be formed. Formation by collision is constrained by the angular momentum of the components, i.e. by the masses and their separation. Close binaries fit this model. Distant binaries however, with components of comparable size, are unlikely to have followed this scenario, unless considerable mass has been lost in the event; the distances of the components for the known binaries vary from a few hundreds of kilometres to more than 3000 km for the asteroids. Among TNOs, the known separations vary from 3,000 to 50,000 km. What is "typical" for a binary system tends to depend on its location in the Solar System (presumably because of different modes
An asteroid family is a population of asteroids that share similar proper orbital elements, such as semimajor axis and orbital inclination. The members of the families are thought to be fragments of past asteroid collisions. An asteroid family is a more specific term than asteroid group whose members, while sharing some broad orbital characteristics, may be otherwise unrelated to each other. Large prominent families contain several hundred recognized asteroids. Small, compact families may have only about ten identified members. About 33% to 35% of asteroids in the main belt are family members. There are about 20 to 30 reliably recognized families, with several tens of less certain groupings. Most asteroid families are found in the main asteroid belt, although several family-like groups such as the Pallas family, Hungaria family, the Phocaea family lie at smaller semi-major axis or larger inclination than the main belt. One family has been identified associated with the dwarf planet Haumea; some studies have tried to find evidence of collisional families among the trojan asteroids, but at present the evidence is inconclusive.
The families are thought to form as a result of collisions between asteroids. In many or most cases the parent body was shattered, but there are several families which resulted from a large cratering event which did not disrupt the parent body; such cratering families consist of a single large body and a swarm of asteroids that are much smaller. Some families have complex internal structures which are not satisfactorily explained at the moment, but may be due to several collisions in the same region at different times. Due to the method of origin, all the members have matching compositions for most families. Notable exceptions are those families. Asteroid families are thought to have lifetimes of the order of a billion years, depending on various factors; this is shorter than the Solar System's age, so few if any are relics of the early Solar System. Decay of families occurs both because of slow dissipation of the orbits due to perturbations from Jupiter or other large bodies, because of collisions between asteroids which grind them down to small bodies.
Such small asteroids become subject to perturbations such as the Yarkovsky effect that can push them towards orbital resonances with Jupiter over time. Once there, they are rapidly ejected from the asteroid belt. Tentative age estimates have been obtained for some families, ranging from hundreds of millions of years to less than several million years as for the compact Karin family. Old families are thought to contain few small members, this is the basis of the age determinations, it is supposed that many old families have lost all the smaller and medium-sized members, leaving only a few of the largest intact. A suggested example of such old family remains are 113 Amalthea pair. Further evidence for a large number of past families comes from analysis of chemical ratios in iron meteorites; these show that there must have once been at least 50 to 100 parent bodies large enough to be differentiated, that have since been shattered to expose their cores and produce the actual meteorites. When the orbital elements of main belt asteroids are plotted, a number of distinct concentrations are seen against the rather uniform distribution of non-family background asteroids.
These concentrations are the asteroid families. Interlopers are asteroids classified as family members based on their so-called proper orbital elements but having spectroscopic properties distinct from the bulk of the family, suggesting that they, contrary to the true family members, did not originate from the same parent body that once fragmented upon a collisional impact. Speaking and their membership are identified by analysing the proper orbital elements rather than the current osculating orbital elements, which fluctuate on timescales of tens of thousands of years; the proper elements are related constants of motion that remain constant for times of at least tens of millions of years, longer. The Japanese astronomer Kiyotsugu Hirayama pioneered the estimation of proper elements for asteroids, first identified several of the most prominent families in 1918. In his honor, asteroid families are sometimes called Hirayama families; this applies to the five prominent groupings discovered by him.
Present day computer-assisted searches have identified more than a hundred asteroid families. The most prominent algorithms have been the hierarchical clustering method, which looks for groupings with small nearest-neighbour distances in orbital element space, wavelet analysis, which builds a density-of-asteroids map in orbital element space, looks for density peaks; the boundaries of the families are somewhat vague because at the edges they blend into the background density of asteroids in the main belt. For this reason the number of members among discovered asteroids is only known and membership is uncertain for asteroids near the edges. Additionally, some interlopers from the heterogeneous background asteroid population are expected in the central regions of a family. Since the true family members caused by the collision are expected to have similar compositions, most such interlopers can in principle be recognised by spectral properties which do not matc
The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical object is a parameter that determines the amount by which its orbit around another body deviates from a perfect circle. A value of 0 is a circular orbit, values between 0 and 1 form an elliptic orbit, 1 is a parabolic escape orbit, greater than 1 is a hyperbola; the term derives its name from the parameters of conic sections, as every Kepler orbit is a conic section. It is used for the isolated two-body problem, but extensions exist for objects following a Klemperer rosette orbit through the galaxy. In a two-body problem with inverse-square-law force, every orbit is a Kepler orbit; the eccentricity of this Kepler orbit is a non-negative number. The eccentricity may take the following values: circular orbit: e = 0 elliptic orbit: 0 < e < 1 parabolic trajectory: e = 1 hyperbolic trajectory: e > 1 The eccentricity e is given by e = 1 + 2 E L 2 m red α 2 where E is the total orbital energy, L is the angular momentum, mred is the reduced mass, α the coefficient of the inverse-square law central force such as gravity or electrostatics in classical physics: F = α r 2 or in the case of a gravitational force: e = 1 + 2 ε h 2 μ 2 where ε is the specific orbital energy, μ the standard gravitational parameter based on the total mass, h the specific relative angular momentum.
For values of e from 0 to 1 the orbit's shape is an elongated ellipse. The limit case between an ellipse and a hyperbola, when e equals 1, is parabola. Radial trajectories are classified as elliptic, parabolic, or hyperbolic based on the energy of the orbit, not the eccentricity. Radial orbits hence eccentricity equal to one. Keeping the energy constant and reducing the angular momentum, elliptic and hyperbolic orbits each tend to the corresponding type of radial trajectory while e tends to 1. For a repulsive force only the hyperbolic trajectory, including the radial version, is applicable. For elliptical orbits, a simple proof shows that arcsin yields the projection angle of a perfect circle to an ellipse of eccentricity e. For example, to view the eccentricity of the planet Mercury, one must calculate the inverse sine to find the projection angle of 11.86 degrees. Next, tilt any circular object by that angle and the apparent ellipse projected to your eye will be of that same eccentricity; the word "eccentricity" comes from Medieval Latin eccentricus, derived from Greek ἔκκεντρος ekkentros "out of the center", from ἐκ- ek-, "out of" + κέντρον kentron "center".
"Eccentric" first appeared in English in 1551, with the definition "a circle in which the earth, sun. Etc. deviates from its center". By five years in 1556, an adjectival form of the word had developed; the eccentricity of an orbit can be calculated from the orbital state vectors as the magnitude of the eccentricity vector: e = | e | where: e is the eccentricity vector. For elliptical orbits it can be calculated from the periapsis and apoapsis since rp = a and ra = a, where a is the semimajor axis. E = r a − r p r a + r p = 1 − 2 r a r p + 1 where: ra is the radius at apoapsis. Rp is the radius at periapsis; the eccentricity of an elliptical orbit can be used to obtain the ratio of the periapsis to the apoapsis: r p r a = 1 − e 1 + e For Earth, orbital eccentricity ≈ 0.0167, apoapsis= aphelion and periapsis= perihelion relative to sun. For Earth's annual orbit path, ra/rp ratio = longest_radius / shortest_radius ≈ 1.034 relative to center point of path. The eccentricity of the Earth's orbit is about 0.0167.
The Kuiper belt called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune to 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed. While many asteroids are composed of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed of frozen volatiles, such as methane and water; the Kuiper belt is home to three recognized dwarf planets: Pluto and Makemake. Some of the Solar System's moons, such as Neptune's Triton and Saturn's Phoebe, may have originated in the region; the Kuiper belt was named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, though he did not predict its existence. In 1992, Albion was discovered, the first Kuiper belt object since Charon. Since its discovery, the number of known KBOs has increased to over a thousand, more than 100,000 KBOs over 100 km in diameter are thought to exist.
The Kuiper belt was thought to be the main repository for periodic comets, those with orbits lasting less than 200 years. Studies since the mid-1990s have shown that the belt is dynamically stable and that comets' true place of origin is the scattered disc, a dynamically active zone created by the outward motion of Neptune 4.5 billion years ago. The Kuiper belt is distinct from the theoretical Oort cloud, a thousand times more distant and is spherical; the objects within the Kuiper belt, together with the members of the scattered disc and any potential Hills cloud or Oort cloud objects, are collectively referred to as trans-Neptunian objects. Pluto is the largest and most massive member of the Kuiper belt, the largest and the second-most-massive known TNO, surpassed only by Eris in the scattered disc. Considered a planet, Pluto's status as part of the Kuiper belt caused it to be reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006, it is compositionally similar to many other objects of the Kuiper belt and its orbital period is characteristic of a class of KBOs, known as "plutinos", that share the same 2:3 resonance with Neptune.
After the discovery of Pluto in 1930, many speculated. The region now called, it was only in 1992. The number and variety of prior speculations on the nature of the Kuiper belt have led to continued uncertainty as to who deserves credit for first proposing it; the first astronomer to suggest the existence of a trans-Neptunian population was Frederick C. Leonard. Soon after Pluto's discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Leonard pondered whether it was "not that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined to be detected"; that same year, astronomer Armin O. Leuschner suggested that Pluto "may be one of many long-period planetary objects yet to be discovered." In 1943, in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Kenneth Edgeworth hypothesized that, in the region beyond Neptune, the material within the primordial solar nebula was too spaced to condense into planets, so rather condensed into a myriad of smaller bodies.
From this he concluded that "the outer region of the solar system, beyond the orbits of the planets, is occupied by a large number of comparatively small bodies" and that, from time to time, one of their number "wanders from its own sphere and appears as an occasional visitor to the inner solar system", becoming a comet. In 1951, in a paper in Astrophysics: A Topical Symposium, Gerard Kuiper speculated on a similar disc having formed early in the Solar System's evolution, but he did not think that such a belt still existed today. Kuiper was operating on the assumption, common in his time, that Pluto was the size of Earth and had therefore scattered these bodies out toward the Oort cloud or out of the Solar System. Were Kuiper's hypothesis correct, there would not be a Kuiper belt today; the hypothesis took many other forms in the following decades. In 1962, physicist Al G. W. Cameron postulated the existence of "a tremendous mass of small material on the outskirts of the solar system". In 1964, Fred Whipple, who popularised the famous "dirty snowball" hypothesis for cometary structure, thought that a "comet belt" might be massive enough to cause the purported discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus that had sparked the search for Planet X, or, at the least, massive enough to affect the orbits of known comets.
Observation ruled out this hypothesis. In 1977, Charles Kowal discovered 2060 Chiron, an icy planetoid with an orbit between Saturn and Uranus, he used a blink comparator, the same device that had allowed Clyde Tombaugh to discover Pluto nearly 50 years before. In 1992, another object, 5145 Pholus, was discovered in a similar orbit. Today, an entire population of comet-like bodies, called the centaurs, is known to exist in the region between Jupiter and Neptune; the centaurs' orbits have dynamical lifetimes of a few million years. From the time of Chiron's discovery in 1977, astronomers have speculated that the centaurs therefore must be replenished by some outer reservoir. Further evidence for the existence of the Kuiper belt emerged from the study of comets; that comets have finite lifespans. As they approach the Sun, its heat causes their volatile surfaces to sublimate into space d
A comet is an icy, small Solar System body that, when passing close to the Sun and begins to release gases, a process called outgassing. This produces a visible atmosphere or coma, sometimes a tail; these phenomena are due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind acting upon the nucleus of the comet. Comet nuclei range from a few hundred metres to tens of kilometres across and are composed of loose collections of ice and small rocky particles; the coma may be up to 15 times the Earth's diameter, while the tail may stretch one astronomical unit. If sufficiently bright, a comet may be seen from the Earth without the aid of a telescope and may subtend an arc of 30° across the sky. Comets have been recorded since ancient times by many cultures. Comets have eccentric elliptical orbits, they have a wide range of orbital periods, ranging from several years to several millions of years. Short-period comets originate in the Kuiper belt or its associated scattered disc, which lie beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Long-period comets are thought to originate in the Oort cloud, a spherical cloud of icy bodies extending from outside the Kuiper belt to halfway to the nearest star. Long-period comets are set in motion towards the Sun from the Oort cloud by gravitational perturbations caused by passing stars and the galactic tide. Hyperbolic comets may pass once through the inner Solar System before being flung to interstellar space; the appearance of a comet is called an apparition. Comets are distinguished from asteroids by the presence of an extended, gravitationally unbound atmosphere surrounding their central nucleus; this atmosphere has parts termed the tail. However, extinct comets that have passed close to the Sun many times have lost nearly all of their volatile ices and dust and may come to resemble small asteroids. Asteroids are thought to have a different origin from comets, having formed inside the orbit of Jupiter rather than in the outer Solar System; the discovery of main-belt comets and active centaur minor planets has blurred the distinction between asteroids and comets.
In the early 21st century, the discovery of some minor bodies with long-period comet orbits, but characteristics of inner solar system asteroids, were called Manx comets. They are still classified as comets, such as C/2014 S3. 27 Manx comets were found from 2013 to 2017. As of July 2018 there are 6,339 known comets, a number, increasing as they are discovered. However, this represents only a tiny fraction of the total potential comet population, as the reservoir of comet-like bodies in the outer Solar System is estimated to be one trillion. One comet per year is visible to the naked eye, though many of those are faint and unspectacular. Bright examples are called "great comets". Comets have been visited by unmanned probes such as the European Space Agency's Rosetta, which became the first to land a robotic spacecraft on a comet, NASA's Deep Impact, which blasted a crater on Comet Tempel 1 to study its interior; the word comet comētēs. That, in turn, is a latinisation of the Greek κομήτης, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the term κομήτης meant "long-haired star, comet" in Greek.
Κομήτης was derived from κομᾶν, itself derived from κόμη and was used to mean "the tail of a comet". The astronomical symbol for comets is ☄; the solid, core structure of a comet is known as the nucleus. Cometary nuclei are composed of an amalgamation of rock, water ice, frozen carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia; as such, they are popularly described as "dirty snowballs" after Fred Whipple's model. However, some comets may have a higher dust content, leading them to be called "icy dirtballs". Research conducted in 2014 suggests that comets are like "deep fried ice cream", in that their surfaces are formed of dense crystalline ice mixed with organic compounds, while the interior ice is colder and less dense; the surface of the nucleus is dry, dusty or rocky, suggesting that the ices are hidden beneath a surface crust several metres thick. In addition to the gases mentioned, the nuclei contain a variety of organic compounds, which may include methanol, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde and ethane and more complex molecules such as long-chain hydrocarbons and amino acids.
In 2009, it was confirmed that the amino acid glycine had been found in the comet dust recovered by NASA's Stardust mission. In August 2011, a report, based on NASA studies of meteorites found on Earth, was published suggesting DNA and RNA components may have been formed on asteroids and comets; the outer surfaces of cometary nuclei have a low albedo, making them among the least reflective objects found in the Solar System. The Giotto space probe found that the nucleus of Halley's Comet reflects about four percent of the light that falls on it, Deep Space 1 discovered that Comet Borrelly's surface reflects less than 3.0%. The dark surface material of the nucleus may consist of complex organic compounds. Solar heating drives off lighter volatile compounds, leaving behind larger organic compounds that tend to be dark, like tar or crude oil; the low reflectivity of cometary surfaces causes them to absorb t