Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Spitzer space telescope reads solar system’s ’Rosetta Stone’

12.01.2005


When our solar system was young, its biggest babies--Jupiter and Saturn--threw tantrums by the trillion. The huge planets hurled ice-covered rocky bodies from the inner solar system far past the orbit of Pluto. Some of those bodies revisit their old neighborhood as "long period" comets, which have been called the Rosetta Stone of the solar system because their pristine composition holds the key to understanding how Earth and similar planets formed. Astrophysicists from the University of Minnesota and the Spitzer Science Center (California Institute of Technology) will present sharp pictures of comets and their dust trails, as well as data on comets’ chemical composition, taken during the Spitzer Space Telescope’s first year of operation during a poster session and press conference Tuesday, Jan. 11, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego.



Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer does not oribt Earth; instead, it travels behind the Earth in the same orbital path. It operates at infrared wavelengths, which enables it to see objects and material too cold to emit visible light. This is possible because even cold objects radiate heat to their surroundings as long as the surroundings are even colder. That heat is given off as infrared radiation; the cooler the object, the longer the wavelength of infrared light it emits.

The astrophysicists who will present the studies are Robert Gehrz, a University of Minnesota astronomy professor and key member of the team that focused Spitzer in orbit; Charles "Chick" Woodward and Michael Kelley, astronomy professor and graduate student, respectively, at the university; and William T. Reach of the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology.


During their periodic sojourns into the inner solar system, comets are warmed by solar radiation and eject ices, gases and grains of rock. Included in the mix are organic materials and water, the building blocks of life, Gehrz said. By studying the infrared "signatures" of elements in comets, scientists have determined that some minerals in the dust evaporated from comet nuclei are similar to both common and unusual minerals on Earth.

"For example, comet dust may contain silica, the main ingredient in beach sand, or magnesium-rich olivine crystals, which are formed in cooling volcanic flows found on the beaches of Hawaii," Woodward said.

"Comets are leftovers from when the planets formed," said Gehrz. "Imaging their comae [the bright ’halos’ around comet nuclei] and tails tells us about the content of the solar system when planets were forming. With Spitzer we can see spectral [light] details in a wide variety of comets, which has never been done before because of Spitzer’s unprecedented sensitivity and range of wavelengths."

A highlight of the presentation is a study of Comet Encke, which orbits the sun every 3.3 years. Unlike more pristine comets from the netherworlds beyond Pluto’s orbit, Encke has exhausted its supply of fine particles and is now giving off larger particles that are perhaps like pea gravel. After boiling off the comet nucleus, the particles tend to spread along long dust trails that follow the comet, like box cars following an engine. Every October, the Earth passes through Encke’s dust trail and we witness the celestial fireworks known as the Taurid meteor shower, said Kelley.

A picture taken by Spitzer shows Encke along its bright debris trail, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter as it headed away from the sun. Also visible are sharp twin jets of material coming off the nucleus. The images are already helping the scientists model how the rotating nuclei of comets eject particles as they travel around the sun.

The work was funded by NASA. Spitzer is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Deane Morrison | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umn.edu
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

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: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

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...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>