Welcome to You Ask Andy

Christopher Walsh,, age 12, of Portland Mainep for his question.

What is the recorded speed of the fastest comet?

Once in a while we are treated to the spectacle of a dazzling comet. For weeks and sometimes months, a star with trailing tresses whips across our view of the sky   often bright enough to be seen at high noon. So fast does the golden visitor seem to travel that we give its name to our fastest planes and jets. Andy even has a young friend who named his scooter The Comet.

It is true that, for a time at least, a comet is a very fast traveler indeed, And this is during the time when it is at its most glorious in the skies. All the golden haired comets are fellow members of our Solar System. Like the planets they circle the sun in endle ss orbits forever, the orbit of a comet is a long, narrow oval   one end of which lies close to the suns the other reaching far, far out into space.  Some of the comets circle the sunny end of their orbits only once in thousands of years, One, at least, returns every three years or so.

The famous Halley's Comet visits our skies once in about 75 years, The rest of the time it chugs around an orbit which swings out beyond the orbit of Jupiter, Right now, Halley's Comet has swung around and started its return trip to the sun end of its orbit.  Right now it is a darkish bundle of stones lazily making its way sunward.

Only when its close to the sun does a comet show the glory of its trailing hair. Only then does it accelerate to what we expect to be comet speed. It may take days, weeks or even months to swing around the far side of its orbit. But every comet whisks around the sunny end if its trip in a few hours.

In March, 1843, a brilliant comet seemed to break all records. It whisked right around the sun in two hours and seven minutes' Its speed was 366 miles a second.  The head of this comet came within 78'000 miles of the sun’s surface„ During this time its tails estimated to be 58 million miles longs swung around to keep streaming away from the sung The tail is a stream of particles forced back from the comet by the pressure of rays from the sung It is renewed every moments

So far as Andy knows, this comet holds the record for spurting around the sun. Most comets speed up to around 300 miles a second and all of them slow down as they leave the region of the sun.  So, when we compare something to the speed of the comets we most certainly mean its speed during the trip around the sunny end of its orbit when its really moving along,


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