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A celestial body, observed only in that part of its orbit that is relatively close to the sun, having a head consisting of a solid nucleus surrounded by a nebulous coma up to 2.4 million kilometers (1.5 million miles) in diameter and an elongated curved vapor tail arising from the coma when sufficiently close to the sun. Comets are thought to consist chiefly of ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, and water.
[Middle English comete, from Old English comēta, from Late Latin, from Latin comētēs, from Greek komētēs, long-haired (star), comet, from komē, hair.]
com′et·ar′y (-ĭ-tĕr′ē), co·met′ic (kə-mĕt′ĭk) adj.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.