SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Comet

221

Large meteors (or superbolides [Ceplecha Z, et al. (1999) Meteoroids 1998:37-54]), although rare in recorded history, give sobering testimony to civilization’s inherent vulnerability. A not-so-subtle reminder came on the morning of February 15, 2013, when a large meteoroid hurtled into the Earth’s atmosphere, forming a superbolide near the city of Chelyabinsnk, Russia, ∼1,500 km east of Moscow, Russia [Ivanova MA, et al. (2013) Abstracts of the 76th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, 5366]. The object exploded in the stratosphere, and the ensuing shock wave blasted the city of Chelyabinsk, damaging structures and injuring hundreds. Details of trajectory are important for determining its specific source, the likelihood of future events, and potential mitigation measures. Earth-viewing environmental satellites can assist in these assessments. Here we examine satellite observations of the Chelyabinsk superbolide debris trail, collected within minutes of its entry. Estimates of trajectory are derived from differential views of the significantly parallax-displaced [e.g., Hasler AF (1981) Bull Am Meteor Soc 52:194-212] debris trail. The 282.7 ± 2.3° azimuth of trajectory, 18.5 ± 3.8° slope to the horizontal, and 17.7 ± 0.5 km/s velocity derived from these satellites agree well with parameters inferred from the wealth of surface-based photographs and amateur videos. More importantly, the results demonstrate the general ability of Earth-viewing satellites to provide valuable insight on trajectory reconstruction in the more likely scenario of sparse or nonexistent surface observations.

Concepts: Atmosphere, Russia, Meteorite, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteoroids, Near-Earth object

102

Meteorites represent the only samples available for study on Earth of a number of planetary bodies. The minerals within meteorites therefore hold the key to addressing numerous questions about our solar system. Of particular interest is the Ca-phosphate mineral merrillite, the anhydrous end-member of the merrillite-whitlockite solid solution series. For example, the anhydrous nature of merrillite in Martian meteorites has been interpreted as evidence of water-limited late-stage Martian melts. However, recent research on apatite in the same meteorites suggests higher water content in melts. One complication of using meteorites rather than direct samples is the shock compression all meteorites have experienced, which can alter meteorite mineralogy. Here we show whitlockite transformation into merrillite by shock-compression levels relevant to meteorites, including Martian meteorites. The results open the possibility that at least part of meteoritic merrillite may have originally been H(+)-bearing whitlockite with implications for interpreting meteorites and the need for future sample return.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Mineral, Meteorite, Comet

84

The provenance of water and organic compounds on the Earth and other terrestrial planets has been discussed for a long time without reaching a consensus. One of the best means to distinguish between different scenarios is by determining the D/H ratios in the reservoirs for comets and the Earth’s oceans. Here we report the direct in situ measurement of the D/H ratio in the Jupiter family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the ROSINA mass spectrometer aboard ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, which is found to be (5.3 ± 0.7) × 10(-4), that is, ~3 times the terrestrial value. Previous cometary measurements and our new finding suggest a wide range of D/H ratios in the water within Jupiter family objects and preclude the idea that this reservoir is solely composed of Earth ocean-like water.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Comet

82

Random bombardment by comets, asteroids and associated fragments form and alter the lunar regolith and other rocky surfaces. The accumulation of impact craters over time is of fundamental use in evaluating the relative ages of geologic units. Crater counts and radiometric ages from returned samples provide constraints with which to derive absolute model ages for unsampled units on the Moon and other Solar System objects. However, although studies of existing craters and returned samples offer insight into the process of crater formation and the past cratering rate, questions still remain about the present rate of crater production, the effect of early-stage jetting during impacts and the influence that distal ejecta have on the regolith. Here we use Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) temporal (‘before and after’) image pairs to quantify the contemporary rate of crater production on the Moon, to reveal previously unknown details of impact-induced jetting, and to identify a secondary impact process that is rapidly churning the regolith. From this temporal dataset, we detected 222 new impact craters and found 33 per cent more craters (with diameters of at least ten metres) than predicted by the standard Neukum production and chronology functions for the Moon. We identified broad reflectance zones associated with the new craters that we interpret as evidence of a surface-bound jetting process. We also observe a secondary cratering process that we estimate churns the top two centimetres of regolith on a timescale of 81,000 years-more than a hundred times faster than previous models estimated from meteoritic impacts (ten million years).

Concepts: Solar System, Mars, Moon, Regolith, Impact crater, Apollo 11, Comet, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

78

None of the approximately 750,000 known asteroids and comets is thought to have originated outside our Solar System, but formation models suggest that orbital migration of the giant planets ejected a large fraction of the original planetesimals into interstellar space(1). The predicted interstellar number density(2) of icy interstellar objects of 2.4 × 10(-4) au(-3) suggested that these should have been detected by surveys, yet hitherto none had been seen. Many decades of asteroid and comet characterization have yielded formation models that explain the mass distribution, chemical abundances and planetary configuration of today’s Solar System, but until now there has been no way to tell if our Solar System is typical. Here we report observations and subsequent analysis of 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua) that demonstrate the extrasolar trajectory of 'Oumuamua. Our observations reveal the object to be asteroidal, with no hint of cometary activity despite an approach within 0.25 au of the Sun. Spectroscopic measurements show that the object’s surface is consistent with comets or organic-rich asteroid surfaces found in our own Solar System. Light-curve observations indicate that the object has an extreme oblong shape, with a 10:1 axis ratio and a mean radius of 102±4 m, assuming an albedo of 0.04. Very few objects in our Solar System have such an extreme light curve. The presence of 'Oumuamua suggests that previous estimates of the density of interstellar objects were pessimistically low. Imminent upgrades to contemporary asteroid survey instruments and improved data processing techniques are likely to produce more interstellar objects in the upcoming years.

Concepts: Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mercury, Jupiter, Uranus, Asteroid, Comet

73

Earth is continuously colliding with fragments of asteroids and comets of various sizes. The largest encounter in historical times occurred over the Tunguska river in Siberia in 1908, producing an airburst of energy equivalent to 5-15 megatons of trinitrotoluene (1 kiloton of trinitrotoluene represents an energy of 4.185 × 10(12) joules). Until recently, the next most energetic airburst events occurred over Indonesia in 2009 and near the Marshall Islands in 1994, both with energies of several tens of kilotons. Here we report an analysis of selected video records of the Chelyabinsk superbolide of 15 February 2013, with energy equivalent to 500 kilotons of trinitrotoluene, and details of its atmospheric passage. We found that its orbit was similar to the orbit of the two-kilometre-diameter asteroid 86039 (1999 NC43), to a degree of statistical significance sufficient to suggest that the two were once part of the same object. The bulk strength-the ability to resist breakage-of the Chelyabinsk asteroid, of about one megapascal, was similar to that of smaller meteoroids and corresponds to a heavily fractured single stone. The asteroid broke into small pieces between the altitudes of 45 and 30 kilometres, preventing more-serious damage on the ground. The total mass of surviving fragments larger than 100 grams was lower than expected.

Concepts: Energy, Mass, Kinetic energy, Impact event, Asteroid, Comet, Units of energy, TNT equivalent

62

The composition of the neutral gas comas of most comets is dominated by H2O, CO and CO2, typically comprising as much as 95 per cent of the total gas density. In addition, cometary comas have been found to contain a rich array of other molecules, including sulfuric compounds and complex hydrocarbons. Molecular oxygen (O2), however, despite its detection on other icy bodies such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, has remained undetected in cometary comas. Here we report in situ measurement of O2 in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with local abundances ranging from one per cent to ten per cent relative to H2O and with a mean value of 3.80 ± 0.85 per cent. Our observations indicate that the O2/H2O ratio is isotropic in the coma and does not change systematically with heliocentric distance. This suggests that primordial O2 was incorporated into the nucleus during the comet’s formation, which is unexpected given the low upper limits from remote sensing observations. Current Solar System formation models do not predict conditions that would allow this to occur.

Concepts: Oxygen, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Moon, Jupiter, Uranus, Comet

52

Staphylococcus aureus is historically regarded as a non-motile organism. More recently it has been shown that S. aureus can passively move across agar surfaces in a process called spreading. We re-analysed spreading motility using a modified assay and focused on observing the formation of dendrites: branching structures that emerge from the central colony. We discovered that S. aureus can spread across the surface of media in structures that we term ‘comets’, which advance outwards and precede the formation of dendrites. We observed comets in a diverse selection of S. aureus isolates and they exhibit the following behaviours: (1) They consist of phenotypically distinct cores of cells that move forward and seed other S. aureus cells behind them forming a comet ‘tail’; (2) they move when other cells in the comet tail have stopped moving; (3) the comet core is held together by a matrix of slime; and (4) the comets etch trails in the agar as they move forwards. Comets are not consistent with spreading motility or other forms of passive motility. Comet behaviour does share many similarities with a form of active motility known as gliding. Our observations therefore suggest that S. aureus is actively motile under certain conditions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus, Observation, Hypothesis, Coagulase, Comet, Stardust

47

From mid-Ordovician ∼470 Myr-old limestone >100 fossil L-chondritic meteorites have been recovered, representing the markedly enhanced flux of meteorites to Earth following the breakup of the L-chondrite parent body. Recently one anomalous meteorite, Österplana 065 (Öst 65), was found in the same beds that yield L chondrites. The cosmic-ray exposure age of Öst 65 shows that it may be a fragment of the impactor that broke up the L-chondrite parent body. Here we show that in a chromium versus oxygen-isotope plot Öst 65 falls outside all fields encompassing the known meteorite types. This may be the first documented example of an ‘extinct’ meteorite, that is, a meteorite type that does not fall on Earth today because its parent body has been consumed by collisions. The meteorites found on Earth today apparently do not give a full representation of the kind of bodies in the asteroid belt ∼500 Myr ago.

Concepts: Iron, Chondrite, Mars, Impact event, Meteorite, Asteroid, Comet, Asteroid belt

43

Most stars become white dwarfs after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel (the Sun will be one such). Between one-quarter and one-half of white dwarfs have elements heavier than helium in their atmospheres, even though these elements ought to sink rapidly into the stellar interiors (unless they are occasionally replenished). The abundance ratios of heavy elements in the atmospheres of white dwarfs are similar to the ratios in rocky bodies in the Solar System. This fact, together with the existence of warm, dusty debris disks surrounding about four per cent of white dwarfs, suggests that rocky debris from the planetary systems of white-dwarf progenitors occasionally pollutes the atmospheres of the stars. The total accreted mass of this debris is sometimes comparable to the mass of large asteroids in the Solar System. However, rocky, disintegrating bodies around a white dwarf have not yet been observed. Here we report observations of a white dwarf–WD 1145+017–being transited by at least one, and probably several, disintegrating planetesimals, with periods ranging from 4.5 hours to 4.9 hours. The strongest transit signals occur every 4.5 hours and exhibit varying depths (blocking up to 40 per cent of the star’s brightness) and asymmetric profiles, indicative of a small object with a cometary tail of dusty effluent material. The star has a dusty debris disk, and the star’s spectrum shows prominent lines from heavy elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, iron, and nickel. This system provides further evidence that the pollution of white dwarfs by heavy elements might originate from disrupted rocky bodies such as asteroids and minor planets.

Concepts: Sun, Solar System, Planet, Dwarf planet, Star, Asteroid, Comet, Asteroid belt