Nav: Home

SwRI-led team identifies clathrate ices in comet 67P

April 08, 2016

San Antonio -- April 8, 2016 -- For decades, scientists have agreed that comets are mostly water ice, but what kind of ice -- amorphous or crystalline -- is still up for debate. Looking at data obtained by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft in the atmosphere, or coma, around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) are seeing evidence of a crystalline form of ice called clathrates.

"The structure and phase of the ice is important because it tells us a lot about how and where the comet may have formed," says Dr. Adrienn Luspay-Kuti, a research scientist in SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division. She is the lead author of a paper titled "The presence of clathrates in comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko" published in the April 8 issue of the journal Science Advances. "If the building blocks of 67P were predominantly crystalline ices and clathrates, then 67P likely agglomerated from chunks of ice closer to the Sun. The protosolar nebula closer to the Sun experienced higher temperatures and more turbulence where crystalline ices could form as the nebula cooled. More pristine amorphous ices likely dominated the colder outskirts of the rotating disk of dust and gas that surrounds the core of a developing solar system."

Amorphous water ice efficiently traps large amounts of volatile compounds, which are released simultaneously upon warming. Water clathrates are crystalline structures containing gas molecules. The volatiles locked inside the water actually create the stable clathrate structure. These structures release gases at characteristic temperatures, dependent on the gas-phase volatile locked inside the clathrate. Luspay-Kuti led an international team of cometary experts that interpreted Rosetta spacecraft data, and found that the observed outgassing pattern indicates the nucleus of 67P contains clathrates.

"Without direct sampling of the nucleus interior, evaluating the composition of the coma provides the best clues about the ice structure and, as a result, the possible origin of cometary nuclei," said Luspay-Kuti. "Thought to closely reflect the composition of the building blocks of our solar system, comets carry important information about the prevalent conditions in the solar nebula before and after planet formation. These small icy bodies help us understand the big picture."

The multi-institute team of cometary scientists analyzed mass spectrometer data from the southern region of 67P from September to October 2014, before equinox. 67P is a Jupiter family comet thought to originate from the Kuiper Belt. Scientists are comparing these new data with data from the flyby of Hartley 2 -- considered cometary kin in family and origin to 67P -- and finding correlations. If these comets formed closer to the Sun than originally thought, these data could help refine solar system formation models.
-end-
This research was supported by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cornell University, the French National Research Agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales, and the James Webb Space Telescope project. Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Airbus Defense and Space built the Rosetta spacecraft. JPL manages the U.S. contribution of the Rosetta mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., under a contract with the California Institute of Technology.

Editors: Image to accompany this story: http://www.swri.org/press/2016/solar-system-clathrate-ices-comet67p.htm

Southwest Research Institute

Related Solar System Articles:

Pressure runs high at edge of solar system
Out at the boundary of our solar system, pressure runs high.
What a dying star's ashes tell us about the birth of our solar system
A UA-led team of researchers discovered a dust grain forged in a stellar explosion before our solar system was born.
What scientists found after sifting through dust in the solar system
Two recent studies report discoveries of dust rings in the inner solar system: a dust ring at Mercury's orbit, and a group of never-before-detected asteroids co-orbiting with Venus, supplying the dust in Venus' orbit.
Discovered: The most-distant solar system object ever observed
A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our solar system.
Discovery of the first body in the Solar System with an extrasolar origin
Asteroid 2015 BZ509 is the very first object in the Solar System shown to have an extrasolar origin.
First interstellar immigrant discovered in the solar system
A new study has discovered the first known permanent immigrant to our solar system.
A star disturbed the comets of the solar system in prehistory
About 70,000 years ago, when the human species was already on Earth, a small reddish star approached our solar system and gravitationally disturbed comets and asteroids.
Scientists detect comets outside our solar system
Scientists from MIT and other institutions, working closely with amateur astronomers, have spotted the dusty tails of six exocomets -- comets outside our solar system -- orbiting a faint star 800 light years from Earth.
Does the organic material of comets predate our solar system?
The Rosetta space probe discovered a large amount of organic material in the nucleus of comet 'Chury.' In an article published by MNRAS on Aug.
Tracking a solar eruption through the solar system
Ten spacecraft, from ESA's Venus Express to NASA's Voyager-2, felt the effect of a solar eruption as it washed through the solar system while three other satellites watched, providing a unique perspective on this space weather event.
More Solar System News and Solar System Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.