Jane Maddin asked:
How long does it take for a comet to completely 'melt' away from repeated exposures to the sun? (Composition and size would certainly have something to do with it, I'm sure) Will there come a time when all the comets are gone from the Solar System because they have sublimated?
We put this question to Katrin Ros, a researcher in Astrophysics at Lund University, Sweden...
Katrin - Comets are actually large clumps of ice and rock that were left over when the planets were formed. We can think of them as huge dirty snowballs orbiting the Sun. Being snowballs, this means that they can melt and they also actually do melt.
Every time a comet passes close to the Sun, part of its sublimates, meaning that the snow and ice turn directly into vapour and this is the vapour that we can see as one of the tails of the comet. So, since part of the comet sublimates every time it passes the sun, it cannot live forever.
For example, we have Haleyís comet which is quite well-known since it passes the Sun once every 75 years or so, and this comet will be completely sublimated and disappear after only 10,000 years or about 100 rotations around the Sun.
This is a typical lifetime for a comet. But still, this does actually not mean that there will come a day when all the comets are gone and thatís because there are huge hidden supplies of comets waiting beyond the orbit of Neptune. Thatís the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. And these regions continuously replenish the inner Solar System with new comets.
At one limit, just one approach, if the comet has an extremely elliptical orbit that takes it directly into the Sun.
There are some estimates that periodic comets such as Halley's Comet will eventually melt away. Estimates vary from 10,000 years to 10 million years, and that it may have already lost as much as 90% of its mass during the last few million years.
Comets have been called "dirty snowballs", and it is evaporation of the volatiles as they approach the Sun which give comets their characteristic tails.
I think ill eat pizza on friday Bob Zimbobway, Tue, 10th Dec 2013
makes sense Andy, Sat, 24th Oct 2015
Any rocks in the comet will be left over as asteroids. Steve. Meyers, Thu, 22nd Sep 2016