Wednesday 4 February 2015

Rosetta Spacecraft Raises New Questions About Comet’s Origin

Rosetta – To Orbit a Comet’s Nucleus

According to a new research released recently, Scientists using Europe’s comet-orbiting Rosetta spacecraft have discovered that its complicated ancient body is coated with simple organic molecules surrounded by a changing cloud of gases.Rosetta will be the first mission to orbit a comet’s nucleus to land and probe on its surface and will also be the first spacecraft to fly along with a comet heading towards the inner Solar System, to observe how a frozen comet gets transformed by the warmth of the Sun.

After a long journey of 10 years, Rosetta reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August, placing itself in an orbit for an unprecedented long term study. It released a piggyback-riding spacecraft in November which descended on the comet’s surface for various series of independent research.

Comets are presumed to be frozen leftovers from the formation of planets around 4.6 billion years back and the Rosetta mission would probably give us some understanding on the solar system’s early days, on studying one of its pristine comet remnants. Though the results from the Philae spacecraft experiments remains pending, scientists recently released 7 papers in the journal Science which provides information on Rosetta’s discoveries during its initial two months around 67P.

Discovery of Wide Variation in Gases

It was found that the comet’s body which is around 100 million time more massive than the International Space Station is covered in ripples and dunes with little water ice on its surface together with generous amount of hydrocarbons. Scientists are of the opinion that they are expecting to find more complex carbon containing molecule though have found mostly simple hydrocarbons.

This has led them to queries on how organic compounds could have been formed and spread through the solar system. The first thing that scientists need to figure out is how the comet has changed over a period of time, details of which will emerge as 67P travels towards the sun and heats up developing a coma or a visible atmosphere together with a tail.

Researchers have already discovered wide variation in the gases that are released from the nucleus, the comet’s body and the changes in the quantities of these gases seems to appear to be tied to speculation on a section of the rotating nucleus which is made of dust, rock and frozen gas, is in daylight or darkness.
Research – Understanding of Comet Formation & Evolution

According to Rosetta scientist, Myrtha Hassig of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonia, Texas, she states that seasonal effects could also be discovered over a period of time. These studies would have an ultimate impact on the scientist on their understanding of comet formation and evolution.

Another scientist, Stephen Fuselier, also from Southwest Research Institute, commented that they were taught that comets were made mostly of water ice and for this comet, the coma sometimes contains much more carbon dioxide than water vapour’.

Scientists are working in figuring out if the 67P which is shaped as a rubber duck, was actually two smaller comets which had melded together. Rosetta will carry on flying around the comet moving towards and then away from the sun, the closest approach being about 116 million miles away from the Sun on August 13.

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