The frequency and intensity of comet showers from the Oort cloud

Julia Heisler, Scott Tremaine, Charles Alcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


We simulate the Oort comet cloud to study the rate and properties of new comets and the intensity and frequency of comet showers. An ensemble of ∼106 comets is perturbed at random times by a population of main sequence stars and white dwarfs that is described by the Bahcall-Soneira Galaxy model. A cloning procedure allows us to model a large ensemble of comets efficiently, without wasting computer time following a large number of low eccentricity orbits. For comets at semimajor axis a = 20,000 AU, about every 100 myr a star with mass in the range 1M-2M passes within ∼10,000 AU of the Sun and triggers a shower that enhances the flux of new comets by more than a factor of 10. The time-integrated flux is dominated by the showers for comets with semimajor axes less than ∼30,000 AU. For semimajor axes greater than ∼30,000 AU the comet loss rate is roughly constant and strong showers do not occur. In some of our simulations, comets are also perturbed by the Galactic tidal field. The inclusion of tidal effects increases the loss rate of comets with semimajor axes between 10,000 and 20,000 AU by about a factor of 4. Thus the Galactic tide, rather than individual stellar perturbations, is the dominant mechanism which drives the evolution of the Oort cloud.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-288
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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