Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Aussie astronomers prepare for smash hit

29.06.2005


Astronomers at Australia’s national radio and optical observatories will watch as a probe released from a spacecraft slams into a comet about 133 million km away at a speed of nearly 37,000 km/h (10.2 km per second).



The cosmic demolition derby takes place about 4pm AEST on 4 July when the comet, Tempel 1, will be most easily seen from the mid-Pacific. The 370 kg probe, carried by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, has been travelling toward the comet for 173 days and has travelled over 431 million km. At the time of the collision the comet will be travelling at 108,000 km/h. The probe will be travelling in almost the same orbit at 80,000 km/h, and will hit the comet at an angle.

The impact may gouge out a crater up to 200 m across and 50 m deep, and could lead to a flow of gas and dust from the comet’s interior lasting for months. This outflow is what ground-based astronomers will be looking for. The comet will appear to be near the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, and also near the planet Jupiter. By the time the sun sets for eastern Australia it will be high in the sky, almost due north. Before the impact the comet will not be bright enough to see with the unaided eye. The impact may brighten it, but by how much is unknown.


When the copper-fortified probe hits the flying iceberg the crash will be observed by the Deep Impact spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope, and ground-based observatories around the world. In Australia CSIRO’s radio telescopes and the optical telescopes of the Anglo-Australian Observatory will be watching. CSIRO’s radio telescopes can work in daylight and so scientists will be able to watch the comet at the time of the impact, and for the following seven hours.

The Anglo-Australian Observatory’s telescopes will be able to see the comet about two hours after the impact, after the sun has set in eastern Australia. Australian telescopes are better placed than telescopes in Europe and North or South America to see any changes in the comet a few hours after the impact. "Australia has excellent radio telescopes," says Dr Paul Jones, a Visiting Fellow at the Australia Telescope National Facility, who leads the team using CSIRO’s telescopes. "We’ll be looking for specific molecules erupting from the comet--molecules you can most easily detect in the radio." "It’s not every day you get take part in an experiment like this," says CSIRO’s John Sarkissian, who will be observing with the Parkes telescope. "We probably won’t get another chance for some time."

Because the comet is moving across the sky faster than the background stars, astronomers will have to use special observing techniques. "We’re going to have to drive the telescope manually at a predetermined rate," says the Anglo-Australian Observatory’s Dr Rob Sharp, who is observing with the AAO’s UK Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring Observatory. "The Schmidt hasn’t been used in this way for quite some time, so we’ll be relying on the expertise of the telescope operators."

Smashing into the comet will give astronomers access to the pristine material of the comet’s interior. Comets preserve material from the early solar system but their surfaces have been chemically and physically altered by the Sun’s radiation. The impact of the probe into the comet has been likened to a mosquito running into a 767 airliner. The impact will not appreciably modify the comet’s orbital path and the comet poses no threat to Earth now or in the foreseeable future.

CSIRO’s Parkes telescope (near Parkes NSW) will be used to look for OH molecules, which are a sign of water in the comet. CSIRO’s Mopra telescope (near Coonabarabran NSW) and Australia Telescope Compact Array (near Narrabri NSW) will be used to look for HCN molecules, which are a general marker for a range of carbon-based molecules.

The Anglo-Australian Observatory’s UK Schmidt Telescope (near Coonabarabran NSW) will be used to measure chemical abundances at many spots on the comet simultaneously. The Anglo-Australian Telescope (near Coonabarabran NSW) will study several compounds containing carbon and nitrogen, to calculate isotope ratios for those elements.

Helen Sim | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.csiro.au
http://deepimpact.jpl.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>