If a comet happened to pass through Saturn's satellite system but got no closer to the Sun than the vincinity of Saturn, why would it not be likely to be detected from Earth?

Quick answer:

Saturn's rings, the icy spray from its moons, and its relative distance from the Earth make it extremely difficult to detect any comets that may exist in its vicinity.

Expert Answers

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Saturn is a unique planet in our solar system, though not the only kind of its type. Saturn has a stunning array of icy rings, which were formed through various cataclysmic events—typically the destruction of moons, asteroids, or comets by the rotation and gravitational pull of the giant planet. Because of the unique environment, a passing comet may not be observed from Earth were it to remain in the vicinity of Saturn for several reasons.

First, it would likely blend in with the surrounding objects very well. Because the rings were likely created by comets, the composition is roughly the same, meaning that spectrum analysis will not give us any definitive clues about comets in the general region of Saturn. There are numerous moons and chunks of rock and ice that obscure the potential of seeing comets in that region.

Second, icy jets make it difficult to discern what is a comet and what is not. Because there are several icy moons around Saturn, the gravitational pull causes icy jets to erupt and hover in that region. Since comets are defined by their icy tails, their existence would be hidden by the surrounding ice.

Finally, Saturn is the farthest planet we have been able to identify without advanced telescopes, meaning that it is the most difficult to observe without using advanced telescopes or scanning techniques (like the aforementioned spectral analysis). This means that, if we can't see it with regular mirrored telescopes on Earth, we won't have much chance of seeing it at all.

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