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A trip past Sun likely to have selectively altered production of one form of water in a Comet known as Lovejoy

NASA scientists observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015

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Comet Lovejoy, Wikimedia
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Washington, March 1, 2017: A trip past the sun may have selectively altered the production of one form of water in a comet known as Lovejoy — an effect not seen by astronomers before, a new NASA study suggests.

The findings could shed new light on how much comets might have contributed to Earth’s water compared to asteroids.

“Comets can be quite active and sometimes quite dynamic, especially when they are in the inner solar system, closer to the sun,” said co-author of the study Michael Mumma, Director of NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology.

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NASA scientists observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015.

Through NASA’s partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team observed the comet at infrared wavelengths a few days after Lovejoy passed its perihelion – or closest point to the sun.

The team focused on Lovejoy’s water, simultaneously measuring the release of H2O along with production of a heavier form of water, HDO.

Water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. A hydrogen atom has one proton, but when it also includes a neutron, that heavier hydrogen isotope is called deuterium, or the “D” in HDO.

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From these measurements, the researchers calculated the D-to-H ratio — a chemical fingerprint that provides clues about exactly where comets (or asteroids) formed within the cloud of material that surrounded the young sun in the early days of the solar system.

Researchers also use the D-to-H value to try to understand how much of Earth’s water may have come from comets versus asteroids.

The scientists compared their findings from the Keck observations with another team’s observations made before the comet reached perihelion, using both space- and ground-based telescopes, and found an unexpected difference.

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After perihelion, the output of HDO was two to three times higher, while the output of H2O remained essentially constant, showed the findings published online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This meant that the D-to-H ratio was two to three times higher than the values reported earlier.

“If the D-to-H value changes with time, it would be misleading to assume that comets contributed only a small fraction of Earth’s water compared to asteroids,” lead author of the study Lucas Paganini, a researcher with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, said. (IANS)

 

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A Dozen New Moons Found Orbiting Jupiter

Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter have been found -- 11 'normal' outer moons, and one that they're calling an 'oddball.'

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Jupiter
Astronomers Discovers 12 New Moons Orbiting Around Jupiter. (VOA)

Astronomers are still finding moons at Jupiter, 400 years after Galileo used his spyglass to spot the first ones.

The latest discovery of a dozen small moons brings the total to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system last year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter’s backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington. They saw a new group of objects moving around the giant gas planet but didn’t know whether they were moons or asteroids passing near the planet.

“There was no eureka moment,” said Sheppard, who led the team of astronomers. “It took a year to figure out what these objects were.”

They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter. The confirmation of 10 was announced Tuesday. Two were confirmed earlier.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny. They are about one to two kilometers across, said astronomer Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

And he thinks Jupiter might have even more moons just as small waiting to be found.

“We just haven’t observed them enough,” said Williams, who helped confirm the moons’ orbits.

Jupiter
12 New Moons Discovered Orbiting Jupiter. Pixabay

The team is calling one of the new moons an “oddball” because of its unusual orbit. Sheppard’s girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

Valetudo is in Jupiter’s distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation. Yet it’s orbiting in the same direction as the planet, against the swarm’s traffic.

“This moon is going down the highway the wrong way,” Sheppard said.

Scientists believe moons like Valetudo and its siblings appeared soon after Jupiter formed. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it. Some of that debris was captured as moons.

“What astonishes me about these moons is that they’re the remnants of what the planet formed from,” he said.

Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the latest discovery and confirmation.

Also Read-NASA Probes Unveils Stormy Environment of Jupiter’s moon

Galileo detected Jupiter’s four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, in 1610. The latest count of 79 known moons includes eight that have not been seen for several years. Saturn is next with 61, followed by Uranus with 27 and Neptune with 14. Mars has two, Earth has one and Mercury and Venus have none. (VOA)