Rosetta takes a whiff of Comet 67P – and it reaks.
*Welcome back, United Academics!
Way back in 2004, the space probe named Rosetta left Earth for the comet known only as ‘67P’. This year, the probe finally reached the dirty snowball, and proceeded to study it.
One of the things it did while orbiting the comet was to take some samples of its coma material, including a survey of its chemical compounds – basically, it took a sniff of the coma. The coma is effectively the comet’s atmosphere, and should not be confused with its tails.
The initial results have been published in EPSC Abstracts, and decidedly those results are quite rancid. The blog of the European Space Agency specifically tells us the surprisingly strong ‘odour’ was of rotten eggs, alcohol, horse urine, bitter almonds, and vinegar.
So, now what?
A few possibilities can be gleaned from these data:
A. This is what most comets ‘smell’ like.
B. This ‘smell’ is basically confined to this comet and maybe a couple others.
C. There is a set ‘pallette’ of ‘smells’ that comets can come in, and it relates to their ultimate composition and thus formation.
Whatever the truth may be, it will be quite telling of what comets go through and how they’re formed.
However, we’re going to have to sniff and probe a lot more comets before we can attempt to determine which possibility is the actual reality. We better leave it to robots, though, if comets are typically stinky…
L. Le Roy et al. 2014. First results at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the high resolution mass spectrometer ROSINA DFMS on-board the Rosetta spacecraft. EPSC Abstracts, vol. 9, EPSC2014-102
M. Rubin et al. 2014. Rare species in Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s early coma. EPSC Abstracts, vol. 9, EPSC2014-248-3
rosetta, stink, smell, odour, amonia, 67p, coma
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