Early outcomes from Europe’s current Rosetta comet mission show the icy body, supposed to be a leftover from the formation of the solar system, is far more complicated and diverse than researchers anticipated.
The first group of science papers discloses details of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is approaching the sun escorted by the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft. After a 10-year flight, Rosetta put itself into trajectory around Comet 67P in August and three months later launched Philae to its surface.
So far, the most astonishing discovery is that study of the comet’s water shows it is chemically dissimilar from water in Earth’s oceans, Contradicting a long-held theory that colliding comets carried water to Earth and other planets in the inner solar system. That finding was released in December, in advance of seven papers printed in a special issue of this week’s Science.
The new analysis show wide difference in where gases are being discharged from the comet’s twin-lobed, duck-shaped body. The info is significant for understanding what procedures the comet has been through and continues to experience since its formation some 4.6 billion years ago.
Researchers believe comets are ancient bodies leftover from the solar system’s planet-forming days. The main resolve of the Rosetta mission is to study more about the birth of the solar system by analysing the comet close up.
The Rosetta team is hopeful to work out whether 67P initially was two bodies that merged together, creating the strangely shaped nucleus that exists today. The other choice is the neck feature of the comet’s duck-shaped body was consumed away over time from what was a more regularly shaped, single structure
“We don’t know the answer to that yet,” astrophysicist Michael A’Hearn, with the University of Maryland, said Discovery News.
“If we see noteworthy differences between the two lobes in composition – that are not just a seasonal effect – they we may be able to say something about how the pieces moved around when the comets were forming, how the larger components, the 100 meter-and-up pieces, came together to form a nucleus. That’s a rather open question at the moment,” A’Hearn said.
Outcomes from the first two months of Rosetta’s mission show that comet’s mass is approximately 100 million times the mass of the International Space Station, with a large density just like a cork, wood or aerogel, researchers said in a summary of the newly issued study.
That would mean that 67P’s nucleus has an interior structure that is fleecier and spongier than computer models foretold.
The new study shows the comet’s body is enclosed with organic materials, but not much surface ice. Researchers estimated to see complicated carbon-containing molecules such as alcohols and carboxylic acids. So far, however, the surface instead appears to be conquered by simpler hydrocarbons, a discovery that may have effects for understanding how carbon-based molecules shaped and spread through the solar system, one of the Science papers reports.
The comet’s neighbouring coma, which forms from ices that have changed into gases, a process known as sublimation, is extremely variable dependent on daily day/night temperate swings and perhaps seasonal changes. Most of the outgassing comes from the comet’s neck.
Researchers will be studying closely to see how the outgassing alters as the comet travels toward the sun. Closest approach will be on Aug. 13, 2015.
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