Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How A Cometary Boulder Lit Up The Spanish Sky

Date:
February 24, 2009
Source:
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Summary:
Astronomers link a brilliant fireball seen in 2008 to the breakup of Comet Metcalf in 1920. They suggest that pieces of the comet may have survived their fiery passage through the Earth's atmosphere and could be recovered for study in a laboratory.

A close-up image of the Bejar bolide, photographed from Torrelodones, Madrid, Spain.
Credit: Copyright J. Perez Vallejo/SPMN

Last July, people in Spain, Portugal and France watched the brilliant fireball produced by a boulder crashing down through the Earth’s atmosphere. In a paper to be published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez (Institute of Space Sciences, CSIC-IEEC, Spain), José M. Madiedo (University of Huelva-CIECEM, Spain) and Iwan P. Williams (Queen Mary, University of London) present dramatic images of this event.

The scientists go on to explain how the boulder may originate from a comet which broke up nearly 90 years ago and suggest the tantalising possibility that chunks of the boulder (and hence pieces of the comet) are waiting to be found on the ground.

Fireballs (or bolides) are the name given by astronomers to the brightest meteors (popularly referred to as ‘shooting stars’). On 11th July 2008, at 2117 GMT, a brilliant fireball was recorded. At maximum intensity, the object was more than 150 times as bright as the full Moon. It was first picked up at a height of 98.3 km and disappeared from view 21.5 km above the surface of the Earth, tracked by three stations of the Spanish Fireball Network (SPMN) above Bejar, near Salamanca in Spain. At the same time a professional photographer took a picture of the bolide from the north of Madrid.

From these images, the astronomers can deduce the trajectory and properties of the incoming boulder. The team think it was a dense object, about 1 metre across and with a mass of 1.8 tonnes, large enough that some fragments probably survived intact and fell to the ground as meteorites.

The astronomers demonstrate that before its fiery demise, the boulder travelled on an unusual orbit around the Sun, on a path which took it from beyond the orbit of Jupiter to the vicinity of the Earth. This orbit is very similar to that of a cloud of dusty particles (meteoroids) known as the Omicron Draconids, which on rare occasions produces a minor meteor shower and probably originates from the breakup of Comet C/1919 Q2 Metcalf in 1920. This strongly suggests that the boulder was once embedded in the nucleus of that comet.

In the mid-1980s the astronomers Tamas I. Gombosi and Harry L.F. Houpis first suggested that the nuclei of comets consist of relatively large boulders cemented together by a ‘glue’ of smaller particles and ice. If the rocky and icy nucleus of a comet disintegrates, then these large boulders are set loose into space. If the Bejar bolide was formed in this way, then it confirms the glue model for at least some comets.

And if fragments of the bolide can be recovered, then for the first time, scientists will be able to study large pieces from a comet in a laboratory. Dr Trigo-Rodríguez comments “If we are right, then by monitoring future encounters with other clouds of cometary debris, we have the chance to recover meteorites from specific comets and analyse them in a lab. Handling pieces of comet would fulfil the long-held ambitions of scientists - it would effectively give us a look inside some of the most enigmatic objects in the Solar System."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Trigo-Rodríguez et al. Observations of a very bright fireball and its likely link with comet C/1919 Q2 Metcalf. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2008.14363.x

Cite This Page:

Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "How A Cometary Boulder Lit Up The Spanish Sky." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213115338.htm>.
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). (2009, February 24). How A Cometary Boulder Lit Up The Spanish Sky. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213115338.htm
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "How A Cometary Boulder Lit Up The Spanish Sky." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213115338.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) — NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) — Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) — One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins