Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Sky at Night – How to Catch a Comet

Maggie Aderin-Pocock, The Sky at Night presenter and I during my interview for the show.
Maggie Aderin-Pocock, The Sky at Night presenter and I during my interview for the show.

The new Sky at Night episode was aired last night at 11pm on BBC4 which was a bit late for me so I just watched it on iPlayer where it’s available for 6 more days so catch it quick. (The clip of my interview is also available here). I was interviewed by Maggie Aderin-Pocock about my beautiful comet dust and you can see a picture of us above after the interview which was such fun. I think they did a great job with the programme too as it’s really informative with Chris Lintott having gone over to ESOC to speak to some of the mission scientists and engineers. Maggie was based at The Open University showing off our pretty summery campus, the lander model and you might also spot ‘Comet Starkey’ (as it’s being called), and this was the comet sculpture I had made for The Royal Society exhibit (unfortunately not a real comet with my name!). So, I hope you enjoy the show.

My next paper: weird comet dust!

My next paper published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta is now available online as an article ‘In Press’ here but the full edited version will be published soon. I have managed to get this paper published as Open Access which is fantastic because it means that everybody can get hold of it even if they don’t belong to a university that subscribes to the journal, or if they don’t belong to a university at all.

I have always referred to this paper as the ‘weird IDP paper’ because it discusses 2 IDPs (pieces of comet dust) that are a bit different and strange compared to all the others I’ve measured previously. One of them, called Balmoral*, contains some very heavy oxygen isotope ratios indicating that it has sampled an early Solar System reservoir only observed once before, and that was in a meteorite sample called Acfer 094. The other sample, called Lumley, is quite a large IDP and is really variable in composition across just small regions of the sample. I’ve not really seen this kind of diversity before and it indicates (or so I think) that the comet from which this particle originated was itself made up of a range of earlier comets (or primitive cometary bodies) of varied composition that were maybe formed in different locations in the early Solar System, that were disrupted and re-formed again. It just goes to show that IDPs, and comets in general have so much to show us. The problem is that the comet dust is just so small and hard to come by. Here’s hoping the Rosetta mission can shed more light on the mysteries of the early Solar System but in the meantime I’ll keep analysing my pieces of dust.

*I name my IDPs after castles (that I’ve visited) in the UK. Balmoral is the Queen’s castle in Scotland and Lumley is a castle in County Durham.

Rosetta orbit insertion happens tomorrow!

Credit: ESA/MPS for Osiris team
Credit: ESA/MPS for Osiris team

For many people August is holiday time, but not for me. I’m back in work after a break in July and raring to go again. And there’s so much going on. Obviously first things first, Rosetta meets the beautiful comet 67P/C-G and what a surprise that’s been for all of us to find out that it’s a binary comet. The initial shape models were completely wrong, but we were warned they might be totally inaccurate at the time. The first good images we got of 67P were so exciting, even if the comet was named the rubber duck after that (see above). Now we are just some 200km from the comet we’re starting to see the detailed texture of the surface (see image below). This is really exciting because we’ve not seen a comet in this much detail before…and it’s only going to get better as Rosetta continues to map the surface of 67P and will surely reveal even more exciting features. Fingers crossed the mission continues to go well and we can make it through to the landing phase in November.

Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

In relation to comets and Rosetta, The Sky at Night on BBC4 this Sunday have a special programme called ‘How to Catch a Comet’ and I was interviewed for this by Maggie Aderin-Pocock, one of the show’s presenters. We spoke all about my beautiful tiny pieces of comet dust and you’ll be able to see some of these on the show. It’s also repeated a few times and it’s on iPlayer too. But first off, watch the news tomorrow because I might also be on there talking about comets to David Shukman who visited us at The Open University a few weeks ago in preparation for all of the exciting Rosetta-related news.

Other than that I’ve been trying to get the NanoSIMS up and running again after a bit of a problem. But I’ve only discovered more problems so my student is very patiently waiting to start his analyses. We’ll get there as quick as we can because he needs some data for a conference he goes to in September.