The discovery resulted from an ongoing project led by researchers at Northern Arizona University using the Spitzer Space Telescope. Through a lot of focused attention and a little bit of luck, they found evidence of cometary activity that had evaded detection for three decades.
Don Quixote’s coma and tail (left) as seen in infrared light by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. After image processing (right), the tail is more apparent. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR/NAU
“Its orbit resembled that of a comet, so people assumed it was a comet that had gotten rid of all its ice deposits,” said Michael Mommert, a post-doctoral researcher at NAU who was a Ph.D. student of professor Alan Harris at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin at the time the work was carried out.
What Mommert and an international team of researchers discovered, though, was that Don Quixote was not actually a dead comet—one that had shed the carbon dioxide and water that give comets their spectacular tails.
Instead, the third-biggest near-Earth asteroid out there, skirting Earth with an erratic, extended orbit, is “sopping wet,” said NAU associate professor David Trilling. The implications have less to do with potential impact, which is extremely unlikely in this case, and more with “the origins of water on Earth,” Trilling said. Comets may be the source of at least some of it, and the amount on Don Quixote represents about 100 billion tons of water—roughly the same amount found in Lake Tahoe.
Mommert said it’s surprising that Don Quixote hasn’t been depleted of all of its water, especially since researchers assumed that it had done so thousands of years ago. But finding evidence of CO2, and presumably water, wasn’t easy.
During an observation of the object using Spitzer in August 2009, Mommert and Trilling found that it was far brighter than they expected. “The images were not as clean as we would like, so we set them aside,” Trilling said.
Much later, though, Mommert prompted a closer look, and partners at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found something unusual when comparing infrared images of the object: something, that is, where an asteroid should have shown nothing. The “extended emission,” Mommert said, indicated that Don Quixote had a coma—a comet’s visible atmosphere—and a faint tail.
Mommert said this discovery implies that carbon dioxide and water ice also might be present on other near-Earth objects.
This study confirmed Don Quixote’s size and the low, comet-like reflectivity of its surface. Mommert is presenting the research team’s findings this week at the European Planetary Space Conference in London.
Eric Dieterle | EurekAlert!
Astronomers release most complete ultraviolet-light survey of nearby galaxies
18.05.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
A quantum entanglement between two physically separated ultra-cold atomic clouds
17.05.2018 | University of the Basque Country
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.
Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...
A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.
Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.05.2018 | Information Technology
18.05.2018 | Information Technology