Sunday, May 17, 2015

Comet's clues critical in solar system origin probe.

Okay, you expect to find weird stuff if you go digging on comets.

But this weird?

(Image: Three rocks [left] and fine-grained dust [right] from Wild 2. Credit: R. Ogliore & Z. Gainsforth.)

Geophysicist Ryan Ogliore, of the University of Hawai`i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, looked into the comet Wild 2, and found a bizarre assemblage of materials.

“The comet's nucleus today is made up of small rocks and ice, separated by fractions of an inch, that originally formed billions of miles apart. Some rocks have seen temperatures above 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, but adjacent ice has been kept close to absolute zero for billions of years. Every tiny grain we look at has its own fascinating story to tell.”

Here is the University of Hawai`i press release on their findings.

Ogliore and his team studied samples from the comet that were collected by the NASA Stardust mission. Wild 2 is a comet that used to travel outside Neptune’s orbit, but was diverted to nearer Earth’s orbit in 1974, when it got too close to Jupiter’s gravitational zone.

The team’s findings were printed in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. The citation: Ogliore, R.C., Nagashima, K., Huss, G.R., Westphal, A.J., Gainsforth, Z., Butterworth, A.L., Oxygen Isotopic Composition of coarse- and fine-grained material from Comet 81P/Wild 2, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (2015), doi:

They found both tiny dust particles and larger rock bits, but the evidence suggest that different particles were formed in vastly different places in the solar system. Some, as Ogliore said above, had at some point gotten very hot. Others have been beyond icy cold for immensely long periods of time.

Some of the larger rocks appear similar to rocks found in primitive meteorites. But the tiny dust particles, strangely for something orbiting out in Jupiter’s zone, looks like the dust that you’d expect from the inner solar system.

What could be going on?

“Does the fine-grained dust from comet Wild 2 represent a diverse sampling of many inner-solar-system objects that were transported to the outer solar system, or in fact, the raw starting materials of the solar system?” said Ogliore.

They’ll be looking into that. It may provide clues to how the Solar System developed. Wild 2 has some interesting clues for us.  

“The comet, in an orbit beyond Neptune since its formation, retains an intact a record of early-Solar-System processes,” Ogliore and his team wrote. 

It may be, they write, “A window into the birth of the solar system."

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015.

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