National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content
YSS Logo
YSS Logo
YSS Logo
NASA Banner
Return to Solar System Exploration
  Overview News Classrooms Organizations & Clubs
   Educational Resources   Background   Featured Missions   Solar System Explorers 

Comets: Small Bodies / Big Impacts

Comet slide
Small Bodies, Big Impacts: Comets Revealed

Cosmic Dust Expert Dr. Mike Zolensky discusses the science of comets in this presentation, broken out into four parts below.

Previous Understandings about Comets
Sample Return from Comet Wild 2
Interpreting Spectra
Education and Public Outreach
Complete Transcript (Word, 50 KB)

Color image of comet in space
Comet NEAT
Solar System Exploration: Comets (new window)

We now know that comets are leftovers from the dawn of our solar system around 4.6 billion years ago, and consist mostly of ice coated with dark organic material. They have been referred to as dirty snowballs. They may yield important clues about the formation of our solar system.

Comets may have brought water and organic compounds, the building blocks of life, to the early Earth and other parts of the solar system.

Ancient illustration of comet causing chaos
Comets have inspired dread, fear and awe.
Comets in Ancient Cultures (new window)

Comets have inspired dread, fear and awe in many different cultures and societies around the world and throughout time. They have been branded with such titles as "the Harbinger of Doom" and "the Menace of the Universe." They have been regarded both as omens of disaster and messengers of the gods. Why is it that comets are some of the most feared and venerated objects in the night sky? Why did so many cultures cringe at the sight of a comet?

Link to fact sheet about comets.
Comets vs. Asteroids Fact Sheet (PDF, 1.3 MB)

This colorful illustrated document compares and describes comets and asteroids at a level appropriate for older children and adults.

All Topics
Back to YSS Home
Featured YSS Resource: Night Sky Network Go StarGaze iPhone App - FREE! Featured YSS Resource: Solar System Exploration Website Featured YSS Resource: 50 years of Solar System Exploration
Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writer: Autumn Burdick
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014