Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


ESA’s new camera follows disintegration of a comet


The continuing disintegration of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 has allowed ESA scientists to see into the interior of the comet. Using a revolutionary camera attached to the ESA Optical Ground Station on Tenerife, they have followed the detailed twists and turns of various comet fragments.

The superconducting camera, SCAM, is an ultra fast photon counting camera, developed by ESA. It is cooled to just 300 thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. This enables its sensitive electronic detectors, known as superconducting tunnel detectors, to register almost every single photon of light that falls into it. As such, it is the perfect instrument with which to detect fast and faint changes in the fragments of the comet.

Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is a short-period comet that approaches the Sun every 5.4 years. Two apparitions ago, in 1996, the comet nucleus split into five pieces (Fragments A, B, C, D, E) of which 3 (B, C, E) were still visible at its 2001 return.

When it approached the Sun again this year, seven fragments were initially observed, indicating that the comet was breaking apart again. Indeed, as astronomers watched, further fragments broke off. Fragment B alone produced at least seven new pieces. At present, about 40 fragments are visible, most of which are likely to be very small and with irregular and short-lived activity.

SCAM was attached to the one-metre ESA Optical Ground Station telescope on 7 May 2006, when the disintegrating comet was observed . Every few microseconds, the camera reads out the number of photons that have touched it and their colour. Using the unprecedented accuracy of the camera, ESA scientists charted the evolution of the dust and gas envelopes associated with each fragment for two hours. Now they must analyse the results.

In particular they will be looking for differences in the size and shape of the fragments and also any colour differences between them that might indicate compositional differences. Other studies are made possible by SCAM’s unrivalled time resolution. Outbursts and activity from each fragment can be traced down to changes that occur on a timescale of one minute. In addition, as the dust and gas particles released from the fragments move with velocities between 0.5 and 1 kilometres per second, the observations will allow the interaction of the gas and dust flow to be studied for the two fragments closest to one another.

Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is one of the comets that was considered as a potential target for ESA’s Rosetta mission. In 1995 even before its initial splitting, it was abandoned in favour of comet 46P/Wirtanen. After the launch delay of 2003, ESA decided not to re-select 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 as the replacement Rosetta target, because of the comet’s volatile behaviour. In 2014, Rosetta will rendezvous and land on the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Monica Talevi | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | 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: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>