Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Post-mortem of a comet

01.06.2010
Scientists put the Comet Wild 2 under the microscope

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!
Further information:
http://www.le.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

nachricht New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot
26.04.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Millions through license revenues

27.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

The TU Ilmenau develops tomorrow’s chip technology today

27.04.2017 | Information Technology

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>