Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Standing on a comet': Rosetta mission will contribute to space weather research

Date:
January 16, 2014
Source:
University of Michigan
Summary:
A comet-bound spacecraft that's been in sleep mode for more than two years is scheduled to wake up on the morning of Jan. 20 -— beginning the home stretch of its decade-long journey to a mile-wide ball of rock, dust and ice.

A comet-bound spacecraft that's been in sleep mode for more than two years is scheduled to wake up on the morning of Jan. 20 -- beginning the home stretch of its decade-long journey to a mile-wide ball of rock, dust and ice.

If all goes as planned, Rosetta -- a European Space Agency-led mission that involves University of Michigan engineers and scientists -- will be the first craft to actually land on a comet as well as track it for an extended period of time.

The Philae lander will latch on to the core of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November and the orbiter will operate until the end of 2015. No mission has ever attempted such an in-depth look at one of these relics of the earliest days of our solar system.

Engineers at U-M's Space Physics Research Lab built electronic components for an onboard instrument that's believed to be the most sensitive of its kind ever flown in space. And a team of researchers will be involved in the mission science as well.

While most of the big questions Rosetta aims to answer deal with the origin and evolution of the solar system, U-M scientists will make a unique contribution that could provide very practical insights into how the sun and planets interface today.

They'll analyze measurements taken at the comet to study solar wind interactions that can lead to solar storms. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles emanating from the sun. Solar storms are bursts of activity that can threaten astronauts and damage Earth's satellites and electric grid.

"How the solar wind operates is one of the biggest outstanding questions about the solar system today. By studying how it interacts with cometary gases, we can learn a lot about the composition of the solar wind," said Tamas Gombosi, the Rollin M. Gerstacker Professor of Engineering in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

Gombosi and his research group are leaders in the field of space weather. A model they developed was recently adopted by the national Space Weather Prediction Center.

At the sun's equator, the wind travels rather slowly, Gombosi said. It moves faster at high latitudes. Interactions between the two varieties can lead to magnetospheric storms. Earth orbits near the equator, so it's hard to study the fast wind from our vantage point.

"But comets pass through all of it. With their help, we can study the fast solar wind," Gombosi said.

Gombosi and other U-M researchers will be involved in additional Rosetta goals. They'll study and simulate how quickly the comet outgases material from its nucleus to its tail as it rings around the sun. They'll be involved in examining what elements are in the comet's tail, atmosphere and ionosphere, as well as how fast the electrified particles in the ionosphere are traveling.

Michael Combi, the Freeman Devold Miller Collegiate Research Professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, is a co-investigator on several instruments. He'll look into the rate at which the comet's core is sublimating, or turning from a solid into a gas, and he'll also work on a team that's analyzing those gases. They'll explore the levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, for example. They can't detect carbon dioxide from Earth.

"It's very difficult to observe some of the chemical species when they're far away and faint. Carbon dioxide is probably the second most abundant species at most comets, but it's not been observed in the thousands we've looked at from Earth," said Combi, who has studied comets for more than 30 years.

Comets -- small rock and ice bodies -- were present in the nebula that spawned the solar system and have been orbiting ever since in far away, cold belts either just past the orbit of Neptune or a quarter of the distance to the nearest star. For scientists, they're archeological artifacts that help them understand how the solar system formed and evolved. They're believed to have delivered Earth's oceans and perhaps the seeds of life in organic materials.

"People use the analogy that it's been in the freezer for the past 4.5 million years and brought in for convenient study. So we're looking as much as we can at the way the way the solar system was 4.5 billion years ago," Combi said.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is one of the smallest bodies humans have ever tried to land on. Its gravity is about 1,000 times less than that of Earth.

"On the lander, there's a camera that can look straight down like you're standing up and looking at the ground. Then there's a panoramic camera that can look out and see a picture of the horizon. It'll be fun to see what this landscape looks like," Combi said. "It'll be like standing on a comet."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Michigan. "'Standing on a comet': Rosetta mission will contribute to space weather research." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116112716.htm>.
University of Michigan. (2014, January 16). 'Standing on a comet': Rosetta mission will contribute to space weather research. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116112716.htm
University of Michigan. "'Standing on a comet': Rosetta mission will contribute to space weather research." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116112716.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. 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