Scientists think that short-period comets come from a band of objects called the Kuiper belt, which lies beyond the orbit of Pluto. The gravitational pull of the outer planets can nudge objects out of the Kuiper belt and into the inner solar system, where they become active comets. Long-period comets come from the Oort cloud, a nearly spherical collection of icy bodies about 1,000 times farther away from the sun than Pluto's orbit. Gravitational interactions with passing stars can cause icy bodies in the Oort cloud to enter the inner solar system and become active comets. Comets lose ice and dust each time they return to the inner solar system, leaving behind trails of dusty debris. When Earth passes through one of these trails, the debris become meteors that burn up in the atmosphere. Eventually, some comets lose all their ices. They break up and dissipate into clouds of dust or turn into fragile, inactive objects similar to asteroids. The long, oval-shaped orbits of comets can cross the almost circular orbits of the planets. As a result, comets sometimes collide with planets and their satellites. Many of the impact craters in the solar system were caused by collisions with comets. Comets that pass near the sun come from two groups of comets near the outer edge of the solar system, according to astronomers. The disk-shaped Kuiper belt contributes comets that orbit the sun in fewer than 200 years. The Kuiper belt lies beyond Pluto's orbit, which extends to about 4.6 billion miles (7.4 billion kilometers) from the sun. The Oort cloud provides comets that take longer to complete their orbits. The outer edge of the Oort cloud may be 1,000 times farther than the orbit of Pluto. Image credit: World Book diagram by Terry Hadler, Bernard Thornton Artists LINK: