Friday, October 21, 2011

Extragalactic and Nearby Comet Storms

Just recently, the Spitzer Telescope of NASA has detected signs of a comet storm in the exoplanetary system of Eta Corvi, respectively (and presumably) in the constellation Corvus, the crow. These frosty masses of ice and stone fling themselves into the members of this system, creating much dust and possibly signs of water. (More presumably, you've heard about the water detected in the stellar disk of TW Hydrae, correct? Peculiar to note is the close similitude of the name as it is related to water!) To this fact, astronomers strive to believe that life will form on in this system, becasue that's what they think about us. NASA is always trying to find new life in our universe - we should be content with the life we have here.

Using special instruments that scientists applied Spitzer with (mainly the infrared detectors), astronomers are starting to analyze light that is recieved from the stellar dust emitted by Eta Corvi. "Certain chemical fingerprints were observed, including water ice, organics, and rock, which indicate a giant comet source," NASA writes. If you noted the Almahata Sitta meteorite that fell in fragments in 2008, you might remember the close similarities between Eta Corvi and meteorite Almahata Sitta. The dust from both of these 'objects' are very similar and NASA implies that the common "birthplace" is the same in our universe; saying that Almahata Sitta came from, or is just coincidentally resemblant to Eta Corvi's dust. (Astronomers assume that this meteorite comes from the Kuiper Belt, discussed below).

A piece of 8TA9D69, or Almahata Sitta in the Sudanese desert. Credit: APOD

Spitzer also located a rather large ring of frigid dust (discovered in 2005), respectively in location at the far edge of the system. The report does note how far this 'edge' is assumed to be: 150 AU, or approximately 8.390111903e-25 light years, and they believe that this location is a "reservoir" for icy, cometary objects - making a correlation between our own solar system. One of the most fascinating places in our solar system is the Kuiper Belt, which is closely compared to Eta Corvi's dust ring. The Kuiper Belt is home to thousands of icy bodies, including Pluto, Eris, and Sedna to name a few. Our minor planets page discusses these - picture section.

So, in conclusion, astronomers believe that similar to Eta Corvi's, icy objects from the Kuiper Belt is what impacted many minor planets - such as lunar craters and other observable ones. Although their views are evolutionary, it is still a good hypothesis yet. "We think the Eta Corvi system should be studied in detail to learn more about the rain of impacting comets and other objects that may have started life on our own planet," said Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and lead author of a paper detailing the findings. The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. Lisse presented the results at the Signposts of Planets meeting at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Oct. 19.

An artist's concept of a comet storm around Eta Corvi. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Another thing to note, the Orionid meteor shower is peaking, specifically October 22. "Although this isn't the biggest meteor shower of the year, it's definitely worth waking up for," says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office. "The setting is dynamite." Over the past few days, more than fifteen metoers will slash across the night sky, but the most dramatic ones are at dusk.

A map of the morning sky on Saturday, Oct. 22nd at 5:30 a.m. local time, viewed facing southeast. Click to view a larger, more complete map.

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