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Comet Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Comets are fascinating objects found in outer space! In this lesson, explore how comets are created and how they travel. Find out what people thought about comets long ago, and learn about famous comets.

What is a Comet?

A comet is a big ball of particles, including rocks, ice and dust. This big ball containing most of the materials is called a nucleus. Comets are found traveling throughout space. When they come close to the sun, the particles in the comet heat up. This makes the comet appear bright, and almost as if it has a tail. Comets can be seen from Earth, some with powerful telescopes and some without any visual assistance at all!

It is clear to see the nucleus and tail with a close up picture of Comet Daniel.
Comet with nucleus and tail

How do Comets Travel?

Comets travel in a path called an orbit. This means that they travel around the sun. Unlike the orbit of planets, a comet's orbit is not always perfectly round. They are light and therefore can be tossed around thanks to the pull of gravity of planets they may be close to. Some comets have a short orbit, where they travel completely around the sun in a short amount of time. Other comets take hundreds of years to complete their orbit. Interestingly, the tail of a comet is always pointed away from the sun throughout its orbit.

Historical Significance

Comets have been viewed throughout history. Many famous paintings and drawings depict people viewing comets traveling close to the Earth. Now we have scientific advances that help us understand what comets are and what they are made of. But imagine seeing an unfamiliar object in the sky and not having any idea what it was, or if it was heading straight toward the Earth! Many people believed that comets signaled danger or doom. These balls of ice and rock created fear and terror in many over the years!

Comets historically created fear in people until scientists could determine that they were not dangerous to Earth.
1618 drawing of comet

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