New comet study provides insight into early Solar System’s chemistry

(ORDO NEWS) — A new study from the University of Central Florida has confirmed that comet degassing could provide information about the original composition of our solar system.

The study was led by Olga Harrington Pinto, a doctoral student at the University of California.

Measuring the proportions of certain molecules present after the outgassing of comets can provide insight into the chemical composition of the early solar system and the physical processing of comets after their formation, Harrington Pinto says.

Degassing occurs when comets, which are small bodies of dust, rock, and ice, heat up and begin to release gases.

As part of her dissertation research, Harrington Pinto collected data on the amount of water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in 25 comets to test predictions of the formation and evolution of the solar system.

This made it possible to study almost twice as much carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide data from the comet. Harrington Pinto combined measurements taken at the same time by different research teams from different telescopes and confirmed that all the data were well calibrated.

“One of the most interesting results is that comets that are very far from the Sun, with orbits in the Oort cloud, that have never orbited near the Sun, or did so very rarely, produced more CO2 than the CO in their coma, while while comets that have made many more flybys around the Sun behave in the opposite way,” says Harrington Pinto.

“Interestingly, the data is consistent with predictions that comets that were very far from the Sun may have been bombarded by cosmic rays so heavily that it depleted the outer layer of their surface,” says Harrington Pinto.

“Then, after their first or second approach to the Sun, this processed outer layer is blown away by the Sun, revealing a much more pristine comet composition that emits much more CO.”

The researcher says the next step in her work is to analyze the first observations of Centaurs her team made with the James Webb Space Telescope to measure carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and compare the results with this study.

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