Curtana (curtana) wrote in little_details,

Flying near a comet

Setting: far future sci-fi

I'm wondering what would happen if someone in a small spacecraft (comparable in size to a Star Trek shuttle, say, but not capable of faster-than-light travel) brought that ship as close as possible to a comet that's, oh, about a year or two's travel away from its star (it has about a 200-year orbit). How fast would the ship reasonably have to be going to keep up with the comet and stay near it for a period of several hours? Would it be horribly dangerous to do so for any reason? (I know that various probes and whatnot have gone through comet's tails and survived relatively unscathed, but I don't know how close they got or how long they spent there...) If there were a viewscreen or something similar, what would being that close to a comet look like to someone inside the ship? My current understanding is that except when they're quite close to the star they orbit, comets don't have a tail, so would it just look like a big lump of icy rock?

I don't need complete scientific accuracy, but something plausible-ish would be nice. In an ideal situation (for my plot ;) this would be a somewhat dangerous but not completely suicidal move, the ship could keep up with the comet without trouble, and it would look kind of cool from the viewscreen, but I'm willing to change things around if any of that couldn't possibly be true... *g*

I've done searches for "comet", "comet speed", "comet tail", etc. The wiki page for "comet" seems to be vandalized right now, as it contains such informative sentences as "Some are moved into Sun-grasping farts that complete the comets when they near the anis, while others are thrown out of the butt forever." Anyway, it's talking about observing comets from Earth, not from a spaceship. I did click through to the links of various comet-observation missions (Stardust, Giotto, Deep Impact) and did find a few interesting things on the Giotto page at the ESA, but I'm hoping for more information, that's more understandable to non-scientician me :)

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.
Tags: ~science: astronomy

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