We are one step closer to discovering the secrets of ancient ‘centaur’ comets

Kites they are a frequent and beautiful occurrence in outer space, and a study recently outlined plans for how scientists could see how they are created in real time. As has been proven time and again, the mysteries of space are continually fascinating. The planets in our Solar System have many stories to tell, distant galaxies hold countless other secrets, and there is a constant push in the scientific community to discover as many as possible.

Thanks to constantly advancing technology, every day we get closer to answering questions that previously had no solution. In 2021 alone, there have been numerous milestones in the world of space exploration. Perseverance collected the first Martian rock sample to be returned to Earth, InSight created the first interior map of Mars, and Ingenuity became the first helicopter to fly over an alien planet. In that context, it is almost incomprehensible to think about what we will be able to achieve in 5, 10 or 50 years in the future.

Thanks to a new study from the University of Chicago, researchers have now outlined plans for astronomers to follow the creation of a comet from start to finish. More specifically, the study describes how we could document the creation of comets that takes place in the orbit of Jupiter. As described by the article’s author, Darryl Seligman, “This would be an incredible opportunity to see a pristine kite ‘light up’ for the first time.”

Comets and asteroids come from many places in our Solar System. There is a well-known asteroid belt near Mars, along with the Kuiper belt, beyond the orbit of Neptune. One less understood destination is an area between Jupiter and Neptune. Between the two planets is a group of ‘centaurs’, large chunks of ice that are from the early days of the Solar System. Every now and then, these centaurs are swept into the orbit of Jupiter, shot toward Earth, and transformed into impressive comets hurtling through space.

While this entire process remains relatively unknown, Seligman believes there is an easy way to document it. In short, humans could send a spacecraft to Jupiter and keep it in orbit there. Then once a centaur enters orbit and finally leaves, the spacecraft could also leave Jupiter and fly alongside the centaur to observe its entire journey. That may sound like a far-fetched idea, but as the study explains, all the required technology already exists. NASA’s Juno Orbiter is orbiting Jupiter right now, and a Japanese spacecraft returned samples from an asteroid late last year. Time also lines up. It only takes about five years to get a spacecraft from Earth into the orbit of Jupiter. Scientists have already confirmed that another centaur will enter Jupiter’s orbit in 2063. On top of that, there is reason to believe that another 10 centaurs could also enter orbit in the next 40 years.

In addition to the mission being technically possible, Seligman also uses the studio to redouble why acting is so important. As he puts it, “It would provide a trove of information on how comets move and why, how the solar system formed, and even how Earth-like planets form.” It’s unclear if / when a mission like this will actually happen, but here’s hoping someone at NASA (or another organization) is listening to what Seligman is saying.

Source: Phys.org


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