ERICH SCHREMPP / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY ERICH SCHREMPP / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Comet hitting Earth, artwork. The speed of impact would be many kilometres per second, and rock and water at the impact point would vaporise. Large amounts of dust and water vapour would be thrown into the atmosphere, lowering temperatures around the globe and causing mass extinctions. Such catastrophic impacts are rare, but have happened in the past and are almost certain to occur in the future. Comets approach the Sun from the outer regions of the solar system. They comprise water ice and other ices, forming a long tail of vapour near the Sun. It is thought that impacts like this added water to the Earth's early oceans.
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