A comet is an icy small Solar System body
Small Solar System body
A small Solar System body is an object in the Solar System that is neither a planet nor a dwarf planet, nor a satellite of a planet or dwarf planet:...
that, when close enough to the Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...
, displays a visible coma
frame|right|The [[153P/Ikeya-Zhang|comet Ikeya-Zhang]] exhibiting a bright, condensed coma In astronomy, a coma is the nebulous envelope around the nucleus of a comet. It is formed when the comet passes close to the Sun on its highly elliptical orbit; as the comet warms, parts of it sublimate...
(a thin, fuzzy, temporary atmosphere
An atmosphere is a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body. An atmosphere may be retained for a longer duration, if the gravity is high and the atmosphere's temperature is low...
) and sometimes also a tail
A comet tail and coma are illuminated by the Sun and may become visible from Earth when a comet passes through the inner Solar System, the dust reflecting sunlight directly and the gases glowing from ionisation...
. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...
upon the nucleus of the comet
The nucleus is the solid, central part of a comet, popularly termed a dirty snowball. A cometary nucleus is composed of rock, dust, and frozen gases. When heated by the Sun, the gases sublimate and produce an atmosphere surrounding the nucleus known as the coma...
. Comet nuclei range from a few hundred meters
Comet P/2007 R5 , also designated P/1999 R1 and P/2003 R5, is the first periodic comet to be discovered using the automated telescopes of the SOHO spacecraft....
to tens of kilometers across and are composed of loose collections of ice, dust, and small rocky particles. Comets have been observed since ancient times and have traditionally been considered bad omen
An omen is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change...
Comets have a wide range of orbital period
The orbital period is the time taken for a given object to make one complete orbit about another object.When mentioned without further qualification in astronomy this refers to the sidereal period of an astronomical object, which is calculated with respect to the stars.There are several kinds of...
s, ranging from a few years to hundreds of thousands of years.