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Five Comets of the Last 25 Years

Updated on August 30, 2017

Five Recent Comets

Since the beginning of mankind comets have amazed and mystified us. Over the past twenty years, our solar system system has witnessed some notable examples. These comets have been quite the spectacle for both astronomers and amateur stargazers alike. This five-page lens touches on some of the more important comets that have visited us over the past two decades.

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikimedia/Sternwarte

Public domain animation courtesy Wikimedia/Anarchemitis

Comet Hale-Bopp

hale bopp comet
hale bopp comet

Comet Hale-Bopp

I can vividly remember observing the Hale Bopp Comet back in 1997. What an amazing thing it was to see. The comet was perhaps the most observed comet ever, having been visible to the naked eye for a period of 18 months. Coincidentally, it was also one of the brightest to have passed near our planet in recent years.

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikimedia/Schnobby

comets last 25 years
comets last 25 years

The 1997 Hale-Bopp Comet was one of the brightest comets to reach the inner solar system in history.

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia/mkfairdpm

comet
comet

Background

The Hale-Bopp Comet, also known as the Great Comet of 1997, was discovered separately by two amateur astronomers; Alan Hale, in New Mexico, and Thomas Bopp, located in Arizona, on July 23, 1995. The comet's extreme brightness was notable, as it was able to be seen by the naked eye for a record 18 months, more than twice as long as the previous record holder, the Great Comet of 1811.

During its visit, the Hale-Bopp Comet provided a massive amount of scientific information. NASA launched an unprecedented investigation of the comet, spearheaded by it's two most advanced observatories- the International Ultraviolet Explorer and the Hubble Space Telescope. Most astronomers thought that Hale-Bopp had a sizable nucleus up to 25 miles in diameter, while the average comet has a nucleus of about three or four miles in diameter or smaller. It is theorized that the asteroid, (or possibly comet), that struck Earth and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago, was roughly seven or eight miles in diameter.

Hale-Bopp was also notable because of it's properties. Scientists were shocked to discover that different types of ices that make up the comet's nucleus are somehow isolated from each other. The scientists also discovered that the comet had a third tail. While it is widely known that comets generally have 2 types of tails, dust and gas, this comet also had a sodium tail. This extremely long tail was found to contain neutral atoms. It was found to be located between the gas tail, which pointed away from the Sun, and the dust tail, which followed the comet's trajectory. Additionally, the Hale-Bopp Comet was also found to carry a huge amount of deuterium and argon. Argon had never before been discovered on any other comet.

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikimedia/P. Salzgeber

Quick Comet Question

Did you observe Hale-Bopp in '97?

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Hale-Bopp Video

The Hale-Bopp Comet is now beyond the orbit of Uranus but is still visible by large telescope, and will be until about 2020. After that, it is not expected to make a return for another 2400 years.

More Hale-Bopp Vids

Comet Hyakutake

Hyakutake comet 1996
Hyakutake comet 1996

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikipedia/Sternwarte

Hyakutake's Visit

In early March 1996, Comet Hyakutake first became visible to the naked eye. By the middle of March, the comet was still relatively faint, but as it neared its closest distance to Earth, it quickly became brighter, and its tail grew greatly in length. By the end of March, Hyakutake was one of the brightest night sky objects, taking on a greenish-blue color.

On the 25th of March the Hyakutake would be at its closest point to Earth. The comet was moving so quickly across the night sky that its motion could be seen against the stars in just a matter of minutes; it moved the diameter of a full moon about every half-hour. The head of the comet was a greenish hue, due to the diatomic carbon emissions.

Hyakutake was only at its peak brightness for a few days. Because of this, the comet it did not have time to capture the public's attention in the way that Comet Hale-Bopp would the next year. Many people Europe were unable to see in comet at its best due to poor weather across the area during that period.

Comet Hyakutake, with the longest tail ever observed, will not return to our solar system for another 70,000 years.

Comet Hyakutake Video

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

S L 9 Comet
S L 9 Comet

In the above Hubble Space Telescope photo, the dark blotches show scars from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragments that struck the surface of Jupiter.

Public domain photo courtesy NASA/gov

Impact with Jupiter

The 1993 Discovery of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 is credited to astronomers Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy. Soon after its discovery, it was found to be a fragmented comet and possessed a decaying orbit around Planet Jupiter. SL 9 became fragmented in 1992 when it orbited close enough to be ripped apart by the Planets' gravitational forces.

The much anticipated impacts of the comet were witnessed between July 16, and July 22,1994. 21 impacts were observed over this period with the largest impact occurring on July 18, with a fragment causing a visible dark spot almost 9000 miles in diameter. This was the first time that astronomers had the good fortune to observe a collision of two space bodies.

The size of the original, unbroken comet vary, with some scientists estimating that the comet was somewhere between three and seven miles wide, with the largest impacting fragment somewhere around one mile in diameter.

S-L9 Impacts Jupiter

Comet Swift-Tuttle

Due to its potential collision with Earth, the Swift-Tuttle Comet has been described by many experts as the single most dangerous object known to humanity.

comets last ten years
comets last ten years

Public domain photo courtesy NASA/gov

Comet's Threat to Earth

The CST is on an orbit which puts it near to the Moon and the Earth. After its 1992 re-discovery, the comet's date of closest passage was miscalculated by 17 days. It was then noticed that, if its next visit (August 14, 2126) is also off by another 17 days, the comet would almost certainly strike the Moon or Earth. Given the size of Swift-Tuttle, this was quite alarming. This influenced astronomer Gary Kronk to look for ancient versions of the comet. He found the CST was probably seen by the Chinese in 69 BC and 188 AD. This information led scientists to recalculate its orbit, and deduce that Swift-Tuttle's orbit is very predictable, and that there is no impact threat over the next two milleniums. Astronomers feel that in the 2126 visit it will likely be a fantastic naked eye viewing opportunity, similar to the very bright Comet Hale-Bopp (1997).

Comet Question

How many comets have you seen?

See results

Comet Swift-Tuttle Video

Comet Tempel 1

This photo shows the head-on collision of the Tempel 1 Comet and the Deep Impact probe.

Public domain photo courtesy NASA/gov

Comet's History

Tempel 1 was first discovered on April 3, 1867 by astronomer Wilhelm Tempel, an while he was working in France. At that time, the comet's orbit was just under 5.7 years, and the Tempel 1 was also successfully viewed in 1873 and 1879. The comet did not become visible in 1884/1885 and it was believed to have broken up and disintegrated.

What astronomers in the late 1800s did not know is that Tempel1's orbit occasionally takes it close enough to Jupiter to affect it's orbit. It was not until 1967 when British astronomer Brian Marsden re-discovered the comet by recalculating the orbital path figuring in the influence of Jupiter's pull.

Tempel 1 is a fairly dim comet; its peak brightness so far has been too faint to be seen by the naked eye. Its size is roughly to be 8.5 by 2.4 miles, these calculations are based on measurements gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Comet Tempel 1 was the target for NASA's Deep Impact space mission, where on July 4, 2005, a space probe was deliberately impacted on the comet's surface to gather scientific data. The next time Tempel 1 returned (in early 2011), it was once again studied closely from space, this time via the existing Stardust probe.

Tempel 1 was visited again in 2011 by the Stardust spacecraft. That was be the first time that a comet had been visited twice and was an opportunity to better observe the crater created by Deep Impact.

Tempel 1 Impact Video

Comet Query

Does a comet potentially colliding with the Earth concern you?

See results

Thoughts on This Hub, or the Comets? - Feel free to comment here. Thanks for visiting.

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    • profile image

      cayennemist 3 years ago

      Fun lens thanks

    • profile image

      Doc_Holliday 3 years ago

      Looking forward to watching Rosetta harpoon C-G

    • blestman lm profile image

      blestman lm 4 years ago

      I used to star gaze when I was in high school. I had a friend who went on to become an astrophysicist. I still stop and gaze at the stars when the light pollution isn't too overwhelming

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      I like to star gaze. I have always been interested in science and have taught science for 33 years.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I've never seen any comets even though I look up a lot! It's probably because I don't go out much at night to look up at the sky. I know that a comet colliding with earth is a real threat but it doesn't concern me. I'm too worried about a leader having a bad dream and accidentally pushing a red button in his sleep. Hey! It could happen! (Not!) :)

    • profile image

      dean_w 4 years ago

      very interesting. I didn't realize the number of comets that have been "in our neighborhood" in the past two decades.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      I was able to see Halley's Comet in 1986 (I was six years old), and one of the ones in the 90's, not sure which. I certainly remember what it looked like though.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks for all the information on comets.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I really like this lens - thanks for building it.

    • profile image

      StrongMay 4 years ago

      Tonight I am going to do my best to see Comet PanStarr, it only comes around every 100 thousand or 100 million years, I forget which (but you can find the info on space.com). It is not supposed to be so spectacular like some in the past, but it is something.

    • katrinakaifg profile image

      katrinakaifg 4 years ago

      nice lens

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 4 years ago

      You certainly have done some great research and made an excellent report. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2013. Hugs

    • aliciamaggie54 profile image

      aliciamaggie54 4 years ago

      I love this. I have been into comet gazing but your lens makes me want to now. I think it is amazing that scientist know when the next comet will come. Some space stuff is really interesting. I think it would be neat to be an astronaut. Thank you so much for sharing this information. A lot of it I had not even heard of. Thanks again. Have a great week:)

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 4 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      Great lens. i especially enjoyed the videos and pictures.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Returning with fresh angel dust....what an amazing presentation and complimented nicely with the SciFi theme!

    • mrdata profile image

      mrdata 4 years ago

      I love your valuable lens! Thanks a lot and Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      thanks for the information about the Five Comets of the Last 20 Years

    • Kumar P S profile image

      Kumar P S 5 years ago

      Great lens ! Useful and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kumar P S profile image

      Kumar P S 5 years ago

      Great lens ! Useful and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    • BorisStewart profile image

      BorisStewart 5 years ago

      Really interesting Lens, I like the comets!

    • profile image

      hilman48 5 years ago

      i see the hayle bob from field near the house , when I was 4 years old ,,,

      Fantastic lens :)

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 5 years ago

      I'd love to see a comet but I think you need a good telescope to really appreciate them.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

      A very interesting lens, very informative.

    • scary-masks profile image

      scary-masks 5 years ago

      Fascinating subject - very thoroughly researched. Thanks.

    • mrkensworld profile image

      mrkensworld 5 years ago

      Wow what a lens! Very nice.. The background is very striking when the lens is loading and the pics, info and videos are great. Quility lens here.. I shared this with all my social media sites. Very cool..

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting facts about comets thanks ......nice lens

    • spids1 profile image

      spids1 5 years ago

      great lens love this!

    • profile image

      NewUsedCarsSacramento 5 years ago

      Anything related to space and outer world always excites me like anything. I enjoyed a lot reading your lens. Thanks for sharing such an wonderful lens.

    • MerlinFan profile image

      MerlinFan 5 years ago

      Very interesting and informative lens, if not a little unsettling. However I did enjoy all the beautiful pictures and videos and actually learned quite a bit. Thank you for all the time you dedicated to this lens.

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      JoshK47 5 years ago

      A truly fascinating read, indeed - thanks so much for sharing! Blessed by a space-loving SquidAngel!

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 5 years ago

      These are some amazing videos! Wonderful page. Blessed!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      Unnerving to consider that the energy of the Shoemaker Levy impact was 6 MILLION megatons. And we just defunded NASA (yay!).

    • hijess profile image

      hijess 5 years ago

      Such beautiful pictures. Makes me remember that there's so much more out there than what's going on in our little heads.

    • profile image

      resurrection7 5 years ago

      comets remind me that the earth is young.....as they break up after about 10,000 years.....interesting lens though

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 5 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi I enjoyed reading your lens, thanks for sharing. Blessed and added to my lens Squid Angel flinnie.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      Very informative lens. Excellent pictures, I really like your presentation.

      Blessings!

    • espada2005 lm profile image

      espada2005 lm 5 years ago

      very informative lens

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile image

      SilmarwenLinwelin 5 years ago

      Fantastic, informative lens! I have featured this page on my space lens . Very well done!

    • profile image

      webscan 5 years ago

      I am concerned about December 21st 2012. Any chances of a collision with one of them?

    • pheonix76 profile image

      pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY

      I love learning about comets, and lets not forget that they also bring us beautiful meteor showers! I loved watching comet Hale Bopp with my Dad -- it was a sight that I will never forget. Thanks for sharing, outstanding lens!

    • profile image

      rudimanukwari 5 years ago

      Very interesting article. I am only now Comet Halley. thank

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      Fascinating!

    • Tracy R Atkins profile image

      Tracy R Atkins 5 years ago

      Great Lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Comets and Spacial Bodies have always Intrigued me as a Child and they still do as an Adult! ;D

    • profile image

      ikepius 5 years ago

      Great lens. Strange that Hale and Bopp did not fight over who saw the comet first, who really discovered it. These days people fight over EVERYTHING. Nice work.

    • profile image

      niralal 5 years ago

      amazing!!

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 5 years ago

      Wow!!!!! I am completely blown away by this lens. Great job!

    • profile image

      Babalucho86 5 years ago

      Beautiful images and videos, beautiful lens!

    • faulco blogger85 profile image

      faulco blogger85 5 years ago

      My Dad loved comets

    • irubucom profile image

      irubucom 5 years ago

      Interesting lens as I have been staring at the night sky for as long as I can remember.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      I wonder if any new, spectacular comets are in store for naked-eye viewing soon? Thanks for this interesting lens.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Fascinating article on commets. Thank you for publishing it.

    • thememorybooksh1 profile image

      thememorybooksh1 5 years ago

      Nice and informative lens..

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've never seen a comet

    • profile image

      jarajelissa 5 years ago

      great information...

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

      A very educational lens - great job, enjoyed the videos.

    • RestlessKnights profile image

      RestlessKnights 5 years ago

      They're coming...

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 5 years ago

      I just love this kind of images and the new theme goes perfectly with this exciting topic. Well done!! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What a thrill to see this beauty on the front page!

    • profile image

      aquarian_insight 5 years ago

      Wow, an amazing lens - I thoroughly enjoyed it! Well done for all the work that went into it. *blessed*

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I remember seeing Haleys comet in the 1980s, but I do nor remember seeing any of these ones! Great job and love the new theme!

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      What a beautiful and well done lens. Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      An excellent and well written presentation of the five comets of the last 20 years and made even more spectacular with the new Sci-Fi theme, excellent and blessed!

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 5 years ago

      Great resource, thanks. I'll have to share this with my kids when we study space.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Your pictures and info are superb.

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 5 years ago from Florida

      Beautiful lens!

    • profile image

      WinWriter 5 years ago

      I learned a lot on your lens. Well researched with great pictures and videos. I also liked the animation of the comet path. *Blessed *

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wow, what a fascinating lens! Thanks so much for sharing. Blessed!

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 5 years ago

      Very original lens topic! Well done!

    • MatijaB LM profile image

      MatijaB LM 5 years ago

      I love you lens - well done.

    • profile image

      JamesDWilson 5 years ago

      Good lens, very informative and well written, thanks!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I lay on the frosty ground and tried to find Hale Bopp with binoculars but unfortunately didn't succeed. I guess I needed someone on hand like you to show me. I enjoyed the lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Love your information; you did a wonderful job on this lens. My dad was a sky-watcher, so I was raised looking for anything unusual. I remember all of us out on the back patio in the cold, stretched out in lawn lounge chairs all bundled up and watching falling stars.

    • Onemargaret LM profile image

      Onemargaret LM 5 years ago

      Very interesting! Nice lens!

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      Comets are fascinating...great lens! :)

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

      Wow! you really know what you writing about: Great lens :)

    • theholidayplace profile image

      theholidayplace 5 years ago

      Amaxing images and great info, great lens

    • KReneeC profile image

      KReneeC 5 years ago

      What a fascinating lens!

    • profile image

      RecycleRRR 5 years ago

      Nice lens!

    • MarkHansen profile image

      MarkHansen 5 years ago

      Haley was the first planet I have seen

    • waldenthreenet profile image

      waldenthreenet 5 years ago

      Important topic. Any utility of a Commet someday ?

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 6 years ago

      what if a big comet hits the earth? would it be zapped with laser guns? comet falling into the ocean will cause tsunamis.

    • profile image

      peppervel 6 years ago

      Have been interested in comets, stars... anything in the universe and beyond since school days during which there were no internet... so spent hours in library flipping thru pages and pages of all these amazing stuff. now with a click ... I can admire these. Thanks for sharing those amazing beautiful pics and informations

    • elyria profile image

      elyria 6 years ago

      I am fascinated with comets and have seen several already. Once, back in college, I drove 8 hours just to see a passing comet in a huge telescope - it was so worth it!

    • adamfrench profile image

      adamfrench 6 years ago

      great lens, good information

    • profile image

      SirAwesome 6 years ago

      Good information and an awesome lense! Keep up the great work!

    • profile image

      ThomasJ4 LM 6 years ago

      I have always been fascinated by the solar system; great work!

    • trainstorm profile image

      trainstorm 6 years ago

      Nice reminder. I must stock up my cellar!!

    • bolsen19 profile image

      bolsen19 6 years ago

      A great, well researched lens.

    • profile image

      dilipsvarma 6 years ago

      nice pictures

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      love it; the fact that the Earth is so big and the space is even bigger is a real amazing thing

    • profile image

      sujaysen 6 years ago

      Comets are interesting as well as scary to me.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      The comets are interesting visitors

    • garyrh1 profile image

      garyrh1 6 years ago

      Not specifically about Hale-Bopp, but I love looking at the sky, stars, and all the other things in space.

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 6 years ago

      Very enjoyable pretty lens..love comet's

    • MarianaFargasch profile image

      MarianaFargasch 6 years ago

      I love comets I love anything that happens in the sky! Great lens!

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 6 years ago

      comets always take my breath away! great lens! cheers

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      @TheMonsterToySh1: I'll second that!

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      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      Froze myself over several nights back in 1997 trying to film this!

    • TheMonsterToySh1 profile image

      TheMonsterToySh1 6 years ago

      Great lens, I love anything about space, shame that so many people are wrapped up in their lives that they don't even consider how vast the universe is!!