Particle physics experiments

New experiments will measure the material properties of comets under space-like conditions. – ScienceDaily

Comets are icy, dusty snowballs that have remained relatively unchanged since their formation billions of years ago. The study of small bodies provides clues to the formation of the solar system.

In Review of Scientific Instruments, by AIP Publishing, researchers from Technische Universität Braunschweig, Austrian Academy of Sciences, University of Bern, German Aerospace Center and Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research have developed a laboratory to simulate comets in space-like conditions.

The goal of the international research group, the Comet Physics Laboratory (CoPhyLab), is to understand the internal structure of comets, as well as how their constituent materials form and react. While comets are made of ice and dust, the composition and proportions of this material remain a mystery.

Many of the lab’s future experiments will involve creating samples of cometary materials with different compositions. By testing these materials in the space-like chamber, researchers can compare each sample to what has been observed on actual comets.

To do this, scientists place a sample in their chamber, then pump it at low pressure and cool it at low temperature. A window in the bedroom lets in the radiation of an artificial star, which heats the material of the comet as it would in space.

“Before [this project], each group used different samples. So it was very difficult to compare whether what they were seeing was the same as what we were seeing, ”said author Christopher Kreuzig. “One of the main goals of this project is to establish a comparable standard for comet experiments where everyone uses the same equipment. and the sample production protocol. “

Combining 14 instruments in a single chamber allows scientists to simultaneously measure the evolution of the comet’s material, as well as the conditions inside the experiment.

In space, solar radiation causes the ice to evaporate and the particles of comets to move away, creating a tail visible on Earth. In the chamber, high-speed cameras follow all the particles that fly away from the sample. The chamber also uses a unique cooling system to accommodate a balance that can sense if these same particles land near the sample and track gas evaporation in real time.

“Below our sample is a balance, which is capable of measuring the weight of the sample over the duration of the experiment,” Kreuzig said. “You can really see how much water ice or CO2 the ice that we lose over time due to evaporation. “

The team has completed construction of the lab and is now optimizing their sample production. They are planning the next big experiment for the start of 2022.

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