Researchers at the University of Leicester are examining extraterrestrial material from a comet to assess the origins of our Solar System.
For the first time ever, material samples from a comet were collected in the Stardust Mission. It was the first mission since the Apollo landings to have successfully returned extraterrestrial material for scientists to study in the laboratory. At the University of Leicester's Space Research Centre and at Diamond Light Source, the UK's national synchrotron facility – a series of super microscopes – scientists are currently finding out what a comet is really made of.
The Stardust probe travelled 3.2 billion km in space, and flew through the coma of Comet Wild2 collecting tiny grains of dust, returning them back to Earth in 2006. They are being dissected at NASA and the University of California and being sent to a few laboratories around the world, with the University of Leicester being one of them.
By developing micro manipulation techniques, researchers at the University of Leicester have further dissected the tiny samples to study the comet to atomic precision under a Transmission Electron Microscope. This 'post-mortem' of Comet Wild2 has revealed for the first time the true composition of a comet.
Hitesh Changela, one of the researchers in the project, said:
"Understanding the true nature of comets may also help us to answer one of the fundamental questions in science - how the Solar System evolved in its early stages and how water and organics were delivered to the Earth. It's an exciting time when we can use new techniques to analyse the most distant Solar System bodies in our laboratories at Leicester."
Funding for Hitesh's PhD has been provided by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
The researchers are obtaining unprecedented chemical information about the smallest grains of the comet, with sizes less than 1/10th the width of a human hair. The Diamond synchrotron is an electron particle accelerator that produces highly intense X-ray beams which can be used to delve deep into matter and materials to reveal information on the atomic and molecular scale. These X-rays were used to probe Stardust to the highest sensitivity.
Dr. John Bridges of the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester is the principal investigator of this project. He commented:
"Comet Wild2 is a big analytical challenge as the total mass of samples is about 1 ten thousandth of a gram. By comparison the Apollo missions brought back 380 kg. The Microfocus Spectroscopy beamline at Diamond Light Source enabled us to examine these tiny particles and map the elements within them. These are exciting times in planetary science and once we have worked out what this comet is made of we can use these new techniques to study asteroids and the planets in unprecedented detail."
Using a globally unique technique at Diamond which enables the mapping of the widest range of elements, the group found X-ray signatures of iron oxides. Further research at Leicester has shown that the small grains of iron oxide contained in the Stardust samples may have formed by low temperature aqueous activity on Wild2. However, other grains formed at very high temperature – around 2000oC which is not what was expected from this icy comet that would have formed in the coldest, outermost reaches of the Solar System. This unexpected discovery has raised new questions about how these 'dustbins' of the early Solar System really formed.
This research is being presented to the public at the University of Leicester on June 24. The Festival of Postgraduate Research introduces employers and the public to the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers, and gives postgraduate researchers the opportunity to explain the real world implications of their research to a wide ranging audience: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ssds/sd/pgr/events/fpgr
Hitesh Changela | EurekAlert!
Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life
17.08.2017 | Goldschmidt Conference
Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors
17.08.2017 | American Institute of Physics
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy