Night Vision: Comets

Amy Oliver

Imagine, if you can, back about 4.6 million years to the beginnings of the universe: a giant, diffuse cloud of dust and gas collapsed, resulting in the formation of our solar system and everything in it. Not a very romantic way to put it, but essentially that’s what happened.

But what about everything that didn’t turn into a planet, a dwarf planet, or a Kuiper belt object? What happened to all of the leftovers?

Just like the crumbs that fall off of your Tupperware when you put leftovers into the freezer, the leftovers of the solar system, too, move out of the way, forgotten in the icy reaches of the solar system until they do

Comet Hale-Bopp. Photo credit: Fred Espenak, NASA GSFC.

Comet Hale-Bopp. Photo credit: Fred Espenak, NASA GSFC.

something extraordinary.

And when they do that extraordinary thing—pass us by in a streak of melting ice and light or crash into a nearby celestial body—they spark curiosity, imagination, and wonder, as they have done for thousands of years.

Today, while we understand comets to be the recorders of history for our solar system, holding within them the building blocks and basic elements that make up the form, mass, and possibly even the life, of the universe and the solar system, to our ancestors, they meant something different. And that something was the sign of things to come, both good and bad.

What can we learn from these balls of ice, these visitors from deep space? Join us at Night Vision: Comets to learn:

- How comets formed at the beginning of the solar system and what they are made of

- What these incredible celestial bodies meant to our ancestors and how they were used to better understand the universe and life here on Earth

- What we’ve recently learned from comets and what our latest scientific missions hope to learn

- When you can next expect to see comets fly by in your night or daytime skies

This week’s edition of Night Vision is hosted by Amy Oliver on Thursday, April 28th, and Saturday, April 30th, at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theatre. Tickets are available online or at the Clark Planetarium ticketing desk for just $2, or free for members of the Planetarium.

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