Home > Astronomy, Comets, Solar System > ALMA Confirms Comets Forge Organic Molecules In Their Dusty Atmospheres

ALMA Confirms Comets Forge Organic Molecules In Their Dusty Atmospheres


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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