COSAM » News » Articles » 2019 » July » Auburn Astrophysicist Follows-up with Additional Time Granted on the Hubble Space Telescope to Chase Comet Outbursts

Auburn Astrophysicist Follows-up with Additional Time Granted on the Hubble Space Telescope to Chase Comet Outbursts

Published: 07/09/2019

By: Maria Gebhardt

Dr. Dennis Bodewits, associate professor in the Department of Physics in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM), leads a team that has just received six orbits of time to use the Hubble Space Telescope. This time, approximately nine hours, will allow Dr. Bodewits to continue his research observing objects in the solar system.

Last year, Dr. Bodewits was part of a team selected to use the Hubble Space Telescope for research on Comet 46P/Wirtanen. He and his team are processing these observations, which will be used to share information about comets including their composition, chemical reactions in their atmosphere, and how they respond to radiation from the Sun.

During this project, Dr. Bodewits is following-up on his comet research and is collaborating with faculty from institutes including CalTech, the University of Maryland, and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

Comet outbursts are sudden, explosive events that eject ice and dust that was long buried below the nucleus’ surface. “The goal of this most recent project is to connect larger cometary outbursts detectable from Earth with smaller outbursts seen by spacecraft such as Rosetta and Deep Impact (typically less than one million kg). With our time on Hubble, we want to determine what processes drive them and to evaluate their effect on comet evolution,” explained Dr. Bodewits. “For this we will measure how much material was ejected, look for fragment pieces of the nucleus, and use color images to investigate the composition of the ejecta.”

Dr. Bodewits also spoke at the annual Duncan Lecture earlier this year, where he discussed the origin of water in the solar system. He presented an overview of historical milestones in astronomy and shared how comets may have ultimately delivered water to Earth.

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