But let's pretend again that we have made it to the Oort cloud. The first thing you might notice is how very peaceful it is out here. We're a long way from anywhere now—so far from our own Sun that it's not even the brightest star in the sky. It is a remarkable thought that that distant tiny twinkle has enough gravity to hold all these comets in orbit. It's not a very strong bond, so the comets drift in a stately manner, moving at only about 220 miles an hour.
From time to time some of these lonely comets are nudged out of their normal orbit by some slight gravitational perturbation—a passing star perhaps. Sometimes they are ejected into the emptiness of space, never to be seen again, but sometimes they fall into a long orbit around the Sun. About three or four of these a year, known as long-period comets, pass through the inner solar system.
Just occasionally these stray visitors smack into something solid, like Earth. That's why we've come out here now—because the comet we have come to see has just begun a long fall toward the center of the solar system. It is headed for, of all places, Manson, Iowa. It is going to take a long time to get there—three or four million years at least—so we'll leave it for now, and return to it much later in the story.