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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

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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NASA Probe Makes New Discoveries on Asteroid Bennu

As a result, Bennu's rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained

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This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission OSIRIS-REx has observed particle plumes erupting from the surface of Bennu, an asteroid the size of the pyramid at Giza.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, which began orbiting Bennu on December 31, first discovered the particle plumes on January 6, followed by additional particle plumes over the last two months.

While some of the particles were slow-moving, the others were found orbiting Bennu, like small satellites.

Bennu’s entire surface was also found to be rough and dense with boulders, contrary to the Earth-based observations, which showed a smooth surface with a few large boulders.

This means that the sample collection part of the mission will have to be adjusted to make sure that OSIRIS-REx can touch down and collect a sample, said NASA while presenting the discoveries at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

NASA
This artist’s rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

“And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started,” Lauretta added.

Further, the team observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed.

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As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained.

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft, is expected to return a sample of the asteroid to Earth in 2023.

The findings will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. (IANS)