COSAM News Articles 2019 September COSAM Faculty Shares Experiences Using the Hubble Space Telescope at the Discover Auburn Lecture Series

COSAM Faculty Shares Experiences Using the Hubble Space Telescope at the Discover Auburn Lecture Series

Published: 09/10/2019

By: Maria Gebhardt

Dennis Bodewits presenting with a slide of NASA icons on the screen.
Dennis Bodewits presenting at the lecture.

Dr. Dennis Bodewits, associate professor in the Department of Physics, spoke at the Discover Auburn Lecture Series. Hosted by the Auburn Libraries, these public events showcase the university and its land-grant mission of teaching, research and extension/outreach.

Dr. Bodewits, whose research focuses on water in the solar system, spoke on the topic of “From the Microscope to the Hubble Space Telescope: Laboratory Astrophysics at Auburn University” on Thursday, September 5, in the Caroline Marshall Draughon Auditorium in the Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

“Laboratory astrophysics gives me an opportunity to understand how light from distant comets can be used to investigate the physics and chemistry in their atmospheres,” Dr. Bodewits explained. “Laboratory astrophysics is prevalent at Auburn University and includes how gold is formed in collisions between neutron stars, how water can survive on the surface of the moon, and how the solar wind interacts with planetary atmospheres.”

Dr. Bodewits also told the audience about working with the Rosetta spacecraft, which is essentially is a flying laboratory. During the European Space Agency’s flagship Rosetta mission, its team measured gases and particles that were not generally expected from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This sheds light on the formation of our solar system and on the origin of complex molecules, such as amino acids.  

67P has a peculiar shape that could inform scientists how planets are built. “We were trying to determine if the comet was formed in a duck-like shape, or if it eroded this way,” he said. 

His team was selected to use the highly competitive Hubble Space Telescope on multiple occasions for the Rosetta mission, more than two days in 2018 for Comet 46P/Wirtanen and being granted access again for observing time in 2019. Dr. Bodewits shared what it was like to use this incredible telescope to research another comet that had one of the brightest visibilities from Earth.  

Dennis Bodewits giving a lecture on Water on Earth

“While using the Hubble Space Telescope for two days to research Comet 46P, we were able to look at the comet’s water distribution, assess its chemical inventory and analyze the impact of electrons,” Dr. Bodewits added. “Comet 46P flew around seven million miles away from our planet, which is quite close.” 

Dr. Bodewits earned his doctorate degree in applied atomic physics, worked with NASA on the EPOXI, Stardust, and Rosetta space missions, and joined Auburn University in 2018. Learn more about laboratory astrophysics research from the Department of Physics

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