The present status of our knowledge of the composition of cometary nuclei is reviewed and compared with what we know on the composition of other Solar System minor bodies – interplanetary dust, meteorites, asteroids, trans-Neptunian objects. The current methods of investigations – by both in situ analysis and remote sensing – are described. Comets are active objects pouring their internal material to form a dusty atmosphere which can be investigated by remote sensing. This is not the case for minor planets and trans-Neptunian objects for which only the outer surface is accessible. Collected interplanetary dust particles and meteorites can be analysed at leisure in terrestrial laboratories, but we do not know for certain which are their parent bodies.
Considerable progresses have been made from spectroscopic observations of active comets, mainly at infrared and radio wavelengths. We probably know now most of the main components of cometary ices, but we still have a very partial view of the minor ones. The elemental composition of cometary dust particles is known from in situ investigations, but their chemical nature is only known for species like silicates which have observable spectral features. A crucial component, still ill-characterized, is the (semi-)refractory organic material of high molecular mass present in grains. This component is possibly responsible for distributed sources of molecules in the coma. A large diversity of composition from comet to comet is observed, so that no “typical comet” can be defined. No clear correlation between the composition and the region of formation of the comets and their subsequent dynamical history can yet be established.
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