23 July 2024
Space snowman mystery: Ancient ice bombs revealed

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Unlocking the Space Snowman Mystery

In a groundbreaking study, scientists have uncovered new insights into the behavior of distant objects in the outer reaches of our solar system. At the center of this discovery is an intriguing celestial body known as the space snowman, officially named Kuiper Belt Object 486958 Arrokoth. This double-lobed object, resembling a snowman, has provided researchers with valuable clues about the ancient ices stored within it since its formation billions of years ago. The findings of this study challenge previous assumptions and shed light on the mysterious evolution of dormant deep space objects into “ice bombs.”

Preservation of Ancient Ices

The study, conducted by researchers from Brown University and the SETI Institute, introduces a new model that suggests many objects from the Kuiper Belt may harbor primitive ices that have remained intact for vast stretches of time. This discovery contradicts existing thermal evolutionary models that failed to account for the longevity of temperature-sensitive ices, such as carbon monoxide, on these space rocks. The researchers’ model reveals that these volatile ices can persist within Kuiper Belt objects due to their extremely cold temperatures, which hinder the sublimation process—the transition from solid to gas. This phenomenon creates a domino effect, leading to the preservation of ancient ices deep within these celestial bodies.

The Dormant Ice Bombs

The study proposes that Kuiper Belt objects, like Arrokoth, act as dormant “ice bombs,” encapsulating volatile gases within their interiors for billions of years until orbital shifts bring them closer to the sun. This proximity to the sun triggers a chain reaction, causing the rapid pressurization of the cold gases inside these objects and transforming them into comets. The researchers’ correction of a fundamental error in the physical model used for cold and old objects in space has significant implications for understanding comet evolution and activity. This new perspective offers a fresh outlook on why icy objects from the Kuiper Belt exhibit violent eruptions when they approach the sun.

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Implications for Future Exploration

The study’s findings not only challenge existing predictions but also pave the way for enhanced understanding of comets and their origins. Co-investigators in NASA’s Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission, the researchers believe that the insights gained from this study could influence the mission’s exploration strategies. By acquiring surface material from a comet and bringing it back to Earth for analysis, the CAESAR mission aims to deepen our understanding of cometary evolution and activity. The researchers speculate that the outer solar system may house vast reservoirs of primitive materials waiting to be observed or retrieved, offering valuable insights into the history and composition of our cosmic neighborhood.

Links to additional Resources:

1. NASA 2. Space.com 3. ScienceDaily

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Space snowman (celestial body), Kuiper Belt (astronomy), Comet (astronomy)

Timeline of space exploration
This is a timeline of space exploration which includes notable achievements, first accomplishments and milestones in humanity's exploration of outer space. This timeline generally does not distinguish achievements by a specific country or private company, as it considers humanity as a whole. See otherwise the timeline of private spaceflight or...
Read more: Timeline of space exploration

Kuiper belt
The Kuiper belt ( KY-pər) is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune at 30 astronomical units (AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20–200 times as...
Read more: Kuiper belt

Halley's Comet
Halley's Comet is the only known short-period comet that is consistently visible to the naked eye from Earth, appearing every 72–80 years. It last appeared in the inner parts of the Solar System in 1986 and will next appear in mid-2061. Officially designated 1P/Halley, it is also commonly called Comet...
Read more: Halley's Comet

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