Cometary Dust Trail Homepage


Cometary dust trails are the collections of large (greater than 0.1 mm) particles that closely follow a comet's orbit, similar to how a contrail follows a jet. Dust trails are the youngest meteoroid streams, and when they intersect the orbit of a planet they can create meteor showers. Some asteroids have been dynamically linked to meteor showers, but dust trails from asteroids seem to be very rare.

Comet 2P/Encke's dust trail

Spitzer Space Telescope 24-μm image of comet 2P/Encke and its prominent dust trail. The trail is marked with white lines. For more on this comet, see Kelley et al. (2006) or our press release.

Dust trail simulation

A simulation of comet Encke's dust trail. The comet is located at the center of the image, the Sun and orbits of the planets are shown. For more, see Gehrz et al. (2006).

Features morphologically similar to dust trails are occasionally observed. For example, a linear tail is observed when comet 133P/Elst-Pizarro is active (e.g., Hsieh et al. 2010, MNRAS). In this case, the grains are probably ~10-μm sized, rather than the >100-μm size I use to define dust trails. In another case, the dust from the 2007 mega-outburst of comet 17P/Holmes returns to the same region of space every orbit. Esko Lyytinen has a fantastic set of images of this phenomenon (Lyytinen et al. 2013, JIMO). This causes a line-of-sight enhancement that is linear and projected near the comet's orbit. The strange name comet astronomers use for such enhancement is "neck-line" (Fulle 2004, Comets II), and they are not necessarily made of large grains.

Remotely observed dust trails

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NameSpace-based detectionGround-based detectionSignificant non-detectionReferences

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Dust trails implied by meteor showers

Thanks to Gary W. Kronk and his excellent web site, Comets & Meteor Showers, from which much of this list is derived (with additional help from the JPL Solar System Dynamics Group). Other references may exist and will be added as necessary.

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NameRelated meteor showerReferences

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Revision history

  • 2021-01-20: Added Spitzer detection of 17P/Holmes dust trail from Reach et al. (201).
  • 2020-01-14: Added TESS detection of 46P from Farnham et al. (2019), Parker Solar Probe detection of Phaethon from Battams et al. (2020), and Rabinowitz and Scotti (1991) detection of 4P.
  • 2015-07-30: Added COBE detections from Arendt 2014: 1P/Halley, 2P/Encke, 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, 169P/NEAT, (3200) Phaethon. Added Spitzer detections from Kelley et al. 2013: 22P/Kopff, 62P/Tsuchinshan 1, 74P/Smirnova-Chernykh, 121P/Shoemaker-Holt 2, 144P/Kushida, 171P/Spahr 2, 219P/LINEAR 38, 260P/McNaught 4, P/2005 T5 (Broughton). Renamed P/2003 S2 to 243P/NEAT 17.
  • 2012-02-17: Added 103P/Hartley 2 trail detections. Updated Vaubaillon & Reach 2006 to V&R 2010 (2006 was a DPS abstract).
  • 2009-05-12: Updated comet Kiess reference to Jenniskens & Vaubaillon 2008; Added possible link between C/1854 L1 (Klinkerfues) and the epsilon Eridanids suggested by Vaubaillon & Jenniskens 2007.
  • 2009-03-25: Added 57P ground-based detection by Ishiguro et al. 2009.
  • 2008-02-06: Added links to Spitzer images from Reach, Kelley, & Sykes (2007).
  • 2007-12-03: Added 4P/Faye ground-based detection by Sarugaku et al. (2007).
  • 2007-09-30: Added a to do list.
  • 2007-09-06: Added 67P detection by Ishiguro (2007); Added C/1911 N1 (Kiess) to the meteor shower list.
  • 2007-08-02: Added ground-based detections from Ishiguro et al. (2007); author list corrections in trail table.
  • 2007-04-18: Added the results from the Spitzer trail survey (Reach, Kelley, & Sykes 2007); corrected short-period comet names to use the official IAU comet naming scheme (i.e., using 81P/Wild instead of 81P/Wild 2); added Spitzerdetection of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's trail (Kelley, Reach, & Lien 2007).
  • 2007-02-24: Added the Spitzer detection and image of comet 2P/Encke's trail (Kelley et al. 2006); added a reference to 2P/Encke's trail simulation (Gehrz et al. 2006); added theSpitzer detection of 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann's dust trail (Vaubaillon & Reach 2006); added the ground-based detection of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's dust trail; removed 133P/Elst-Pizarro since the dust grains observed in Hseih et al. 2004 are not trail grains in the IRAS sense; fixed the link to Comets & Meteor Showers.
  • 2006-09-06: Added new Spitzer detection of 29P/Schassmann-Wachmann trail (Nesvorný et al. 2006).
  • 2006-02-12: Added MSX detection of 22P/Kopff trail (Kraemer et al. 2005).
  • 2005-10-12: Added meteor stream references for 3200 Phaethon (Whipple 1983) and D/1819 W1 (Jenniskens & Lyytinen 2005); added Quadrantids and 2003 EH1 / C/1490 Y1 (Jenniskens 2004); added 114/Wiseman-Skiff and the possibility of the martian Cepheids (Selsis et al. 2005).
  • 2005-09-13: Added 133P/Elst-Pizarro (Hsieh et al. 2004); updated the Encke trail simulation.
  • 2005-06-12: Removed Reach et al. 2003 Palomar detection of 67P's trail; Added Stansberry et al. 2004 Spitzer detection of 29P's trail.
  • 2005-02-17: Added D/1819 W1 (Blanpain) / 2003 WY25 and C/1964 N1 (Ikeya).
  • 2005-01-05: Added 2P/Encke - Taurid meteor shower reference.
  • 2004-07-13: Added a simple simulation of particles trailing comet 2P/Encke.
  • 2004-02-06: Added 122P/de Vico and 2201 Oljato indirect trail detections from interplanetary magnetic field enhancements.
  • 2004-02-05: 22P/Kopff reference added (Lowry & Weissman).
  • 2004-01-18: A non-exhaustive list of meteor trails added.
  • 2004-01-13: Creation date.

Copyright © Michael S. P. Kelley 2022