IGPP Seminar Series

Comets - Remnants from the Birth of the Solar System

by Dr. Uwe Keller
Institute for Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics & Technical University


Comets are small bodies in our solar system that can become spectacular phenomena when volatiles sublime due to solar heating. Once it was realized that comets contain large proportions of highly volatile compounds it became obvious that they must have formed very early in the outer fringes of the planetary nebula. Their key role for the understanding of the primordial material and physical processes in the early solar nebula was readily recognized and it was only consequential that ESA’s first interplanetary mission was the flyby of comet Halley. Ever more sophisticated instrumentation of telescopes revealed a strong correlation of cometary compounds with interstellar material. Comets cannot only reveal details of the early phases of the solar system formation but they can also provide unique ground truth for astrophysics documenting the complex chemistry of interstellar molecules. Spacecraft encounters with comets during the last decade consolidated our perception of kilometre sized fragile nuclei with very low surface albedo and localized activity. The ESA cornerstone mission Rosetta was originally conceived as a comet nucleus sample return (CNSR) mission. Our knowledge of the physical properties of cometary nuclei has been so strongly consolidated that a focussed relatively simple sample return mission can now be conceived. Applying the sophisticated modern analytical laboratory methods will allow for a detailed chronology of the solar system formation and its complex processes.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
3853 Slichter Hall
Refreshments at 3:45 PM
Lecture at 4:00 PM