Comets are balls of ice and dirt left over from the formation of our solar system. Most comets live far from the sun in the Kuiper belt outside the orbit of Neptune or in the distant Oort cloud, located 50,000 times farther from the sun than the Earth is. Periodically, they will swing through the inner solar system, becoming heated by the sun’s warmth and melting out a long tail visible from our planet.
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Like celestial drifters passing in the night, two comets will zoom by one another during a live show from the Slooh space camera, starting at 2 p.m. Pacific/5 p.m. Eastern.
One of the passing pair, comet 168P/Hergenrother, was discovered in 1998 and enters the inner solar system every seven years. Over the last six weeks, amateur astronomers noticed a series of outbursts coming from the comet that have made it brighter and could indicate that it’s disintegrating. The other comet, named C/2012 J1, was discovered in May and takes a much longer path through space. It won’t be traveling through our neck of the solar system for another 200 years.
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