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Asteroids and comets were extensively observed by telescopes of various spectra, and over the course of multiple centuries. Tycho Brage was the first to ascertain the fact that comets exist outside moon's orbit (as opposed to being an atmospheric phenomena), Edmond Halley identified the eponymous comet as appearing periodically, and Isaac Newton proposed the theory that comets are rocky bodies with some ice that evaporates to create the tail - Fred Lawrence Whipple later reversed this, creating the "dirty snowball" theory confirmed by multiple spacecraft fly-bys of multiple comets, including one sample return mission, and one landing.

Asteroids were discovered considerably later than comets (since comets were always easily observable), and were for a long time they were only glowing star ("astra")-like points (hence "aster-oids"). However, several probes have flown by asteroids: Mariner 9 studied the moons of Mars - both of them captured asteroids - up close, and Galileo passed by two asteroids on its way to Jupiter; and we aren't even talking about dedicated asteroid probes.

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