Where Have You Been?

Late by about a decade, a missing comet finally streaks into view

EVERY AUGUST, COMET SWIFT-TUTTLE LEAVES A spectacular calling card. The trail of dust it sheds on its journey around the sun intersects Earth's orbit and flares into the Perseid meteor shower. The comet itself last appeared in 1862, and based on the orbit calculated at that time, it should have showed up again between 1979 and 1983. It didn't.

But last week a Japanese comet hunter spotted a faint blob through powerful binoculars, and a check of its orbit confirmed that Swift-Tuttle had come back at last (it may be barely visible to the naked eye in November). Why so late?...

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