HomeAstronomy & SpaceComets provides insight into chemical composition of early solar system

Comets provides insight into chemical composition of early solar system

According to a recent study from the University of Central Florida, the outgassing of molecules from comets could be the result of the solar system’s original composition.

The findings were published in the Planetary Science Journal.

The study’s principal investigator was Olga Harrington Pinto, a doctoral candidate in UCF’s College of Sciences’ Physics Department.

The ratio of specific chemicals found after comet outgassing, according to Harrington Pinto, can reveal information about the chemical makeup of early solar systems and the physical processing of comets after they form. When comets, which are tiny bodies of ice, rock, and dust in the solar system, warm up and begin to emit gases, they outgas.

Harrington Pinto collected data on the levels of water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide gases from 25 comets for her dissertation in order to verify theories about the genesis and development of the solar system.

This enabled researchers to examine roughly twice as much comet carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide data. The measurements came from a variety of academic works. When multiple telescopes and study teams were taking measurements at the same time, she meticulously combined the data and was able to verify that it was all accurate.

“One of the most interesting results is that comets very far from the Sun with orbits in the Oort cloud that have never, or only rarely, orbited near the Sun were seen to produce more CO2 than CO in their coma,” Harrington Pinto says. “Nothing like this had ever been seen conclusively before.”

“Interestingly, the data are consistent with predictions that comets in the Oort cloud that have been hanging out very far from the sun may have been bombarded by cosmic rays on their surface in such a way that it created a CO-depleted outer layer,” Harrington Pinto says. “Then, after their first or second close approach to the sun, the sun blasts off this processed outer layer, revealing a much more pristine comet composition that emits much more CO.”

The researcher plans to examine the initial observations of the centaur made by her team using the James Webb Space Telescope in order to directly quantify the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and compare the results with this study.


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