Rosetta-Alice spectrograph obtains first far ultraviolet spectra of a cometary surface while orbiting Churyumov-Gerasimenko
NASA’s Alice ultraviolet (UV) spectrograph aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta comet orbiter has delivered its first scientific discoveries. Rosetta, in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is the first spacecraft to study a comet up close.
Image Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute
The Alice ultraviolet imaging spectrometer will be the first to study a comet up close. The shoebox-sized instrument is one-third to one-half the mass of comparable UV instruments, yet with more than 10,000 times as many imaging pixels as the spectrometer aboard Galileo.
As Alice began mapping the comet’s surface last month, it made the first far ultraviolet spectra of a cometary surface. From these data, the Alice team discovered that the comet is unusually dark at ultraviolet wavelengths and that the comet’s surface — so far — shows no large water-ice patches. Alice is also already detecting both hydrogen and oxygen in the comet’s coma, or atmosphere.
“We’re a bit surprised at both just how very unreflective the comet’s surface is, and what little evidence of exposed water-ice it shows,” says Dr. Alan Stern, Alice principal investigator and an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Science and Engineering Division.
Developed by SwRI, Alice is probing the origin, composition and workings of the comet, gaining sensitive, high-resolution compositional insights that cannot be obtained by either ground-based or Earth-orbital observations. The ultraviolet wavelengths Alice observes contain unique information about the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and the properties of its surface.
“As the mission progresses, we will continue to search for surface ice patches and ultraviolet color and composition variations across the surface of the comet,” says Dr. Lori Feaga, Alice co-investigator at the University of Maryland.
Alice is one of three instruments funded by NASA flying aboard Rosetta. Alice has more than 1,000 times the data-gathering capability of instruments flown a generation ago, yet it weighs less than 4 kilograms and draws just 4 watts of power. A sister Alice instrument was developed by SwRI and was launched aboard the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto in January 2006 to study that distant world’s atmosphere. It will reach Pluto in July 2015. SwRI also built and operates Rosetta’s Ion and Electron Spectrograph (IES), another instrument with miniaturized electronic systems. With a mass of 1.04 kilograms, IES achieves sensitivity comparable to instruments weighing five times more.
To reach its comet target, the Rosetta spacecraft executed four gravity assists (three from Earth, one from Mars) and a nearly three-year period of deep space hibernation, waking up in January 2014 in time to prepare for its rendezvous with Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta also carries a lander, Philae, that will drop to the comet’s surface in November 2014, attempting the first-ever direct observations of a comet surface.
Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI. Airbus Defense and Space built the Rosetta spacecraft. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the U.S. contribution of the Rosetta mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, under a contract with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). JPL also built the Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter and hosts its principal investigator, Dr. Samuel Gulkis. SwRI (San Antonio and Boulder, Colo.) developed the Rosetta orbiter’s Ion and Electron Sensor and Alice instrument and hosts their principal investigators, Dr. James Burch (IES) and Dr. Alan Stern (Alice).
Editors: An image of the Alice ultraviolet (UV) spectrograph is available at http://www.swri.org/press/2014/alice-ultraviolet.htm.
For more information, contact Maria Stothoff, (210) 522-3305, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.
Maria Martinez Stothoff | Eurek Alert!
A pathfinder for gravitational waves
01.12.2015 | Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Hannover), Hannover
Simulation shows key to building powerful magnetic fields
01.12.2015 | California Institute of Technology
Chemical weathering of rocks over geological time scales is an important control on the stability of the climate. This weathering is, in turn, highly dependent...
Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.
The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
01.12.2015 | Event News
30.11.2015 | Event News
25.11.2015 | Event News
01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences
01.12.2015 | Life Sciences
01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences