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ALMA Confirms Comets Forge Organic Molecules In Their Dusty Atmospheres

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

The emission from organic molecules in the atmosphere of comet ISON as observed with ALMA. Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); M. Cordiner, NASA, et al.

The emission from organic molecules in the atmosphere of comet ISON as observed with ALMA. Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); M. Cordiner, NASA, et al.

An international team of scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has made incredible 3D images of the ghostly atmospheres surrounding comets ISON and Lemmon. These new observations provided important insights into how and where comets forge new chemicals, including intriguing organic compounds.

Comets contain some of the oldest and most pristine materials in our Solar System. Understanding their unique chemistry could reveal much about the birth of our planet and the origin of organic compounds that are the building blocks of life. ALMA’s high-resolution observations provided a tantalizing 3D perspective of the distribution of the molecules within these two cometary atmospheres, or comas.

“We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said team leader Martin Cordiner, a Catholic University of America astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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NASA’s 3-D Study Of Comets Reveals Chemical Factory At Work

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

A NASA-led team of scientists has created detailed 3-D maps of the atmospheres surrounding comets, identifying several gases and mapping their spread at the highest resolution ever achieved.

“We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said Martin Cordiner, a researcher working in the Goddard Center for Astrobiology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Cordiner led the international team of researchers.

Almost unheard of for comet studies, the 3-D perspective provides deeper insight into which materials are shed from the nucleus of the comet and which are produced within the atmosphere, or coma. This helped the team nail down the sources of two key organic, or carbon-containing, molecules.

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NASA’s NuSTAR Sees Rare Blurring Of Black Hole Light

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech

Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech

Scientists have used NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), an orbiting X-ray telescope, to capture an extreme and rare event in the regions immediately surrounding a supermassive black hole. A compact source of X-rays that sits near the black hole, called the corona, has moved closer to the black hole over a period of just days. The researchers publish their results in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“The corona recently collapsed in towards the black hole, with the result that the black hole’s intense gravity pulled all the light down onto its surrounding disk, where material is spiralling inward,” said Michael Parker of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, lead author of the new paper.

As the corona shifted closer to the black hole, the black hole’s gravitational field exerted a stronger tug on the x-rays emitted by the corona. The result was an extreme blurring and stretching of the X-ray light. Such events had been observed previously, but never to this degree and in such detail.

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