Comets: Why study them? What can they teach us about finding life beyond Earth?

Image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft on Jan. 31, 2015. (Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Universe Today has explored the importance of studying impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, astrobiology, and solar physics, and what this myriad of scientific disciplines can teach scientists and the public regarding the search for life beyond Earth. Here, we will explore some of the most awe-inspiring spectacles within our solar system known as comets, including why researchers study comets, the benefits and challenges, what comets can teach us about finding life beyond Earth, and how upcoming students can pursue studying comets. So, why is it so important to study comets?

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See the Dramatic Final Moments of the Doomed ERS-2 Satellite

The ESA's ERS-2 Earth observation satellite was destroyed when it re-entered Earth's atmosphere on February 21st 2004. Image Credit: Fraunhofer FHR

When a satellite reaches the end of its life, it has only two destinations. It can either be maneuvered into a graveyard orbit, a kind of purgatory for satellites, or it plunges to its destruction in Earth’s atmosphere. The ESA’s ERS-2 satellite took the latter option after 30 years in orbit.

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What Happened to All Those Boulders Blasted into Space by DART?

Hubble Image of the DART Impact

It was a $325 million dollar project that was intentionally smashed to smithereens in the interest of one day, saving humanity. The DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) launched in November 2021 on route to asteroid Dimorphos. Its mission was simple, to smash into Dimorphos to see if it may be possible to redirect it from its path. On impact, it created a trail of debris from micron to meter sized objects. A new paper analyses the debris field to predict where they might end up. 

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An Astronaut Controls a Robotic Dog From Orbit

DLR's four-legged robot Bert explores and monitors the unfamiliar environment. The Surface Avatar Experiment rehearsed an important scenario for future exploration missions on the Moon and Mars. Bert is being developed at the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics and can walk, trot, gallop, perform a passing gait and even climb. This enables him to cover long distances and at the same time move around in rough terrain or small caves. Credit: DLR.

Swedish astronaut Marcus Wandt took control of a series of robots in Germany while on board the International Space Station, zipping around the Earth at 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,500 mph.) Researchers want to understand how time delays can affect the remote control of robots from an orbiting platform. Future astronauts could control rovers on the Moon’s or Mars’s surface from a spacecraft in orbit. Until now, only wheeled rovers have been part of the tests, but now they have added a dog-like robot called Bert.

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New Webb Image of a Massive Star Forming Complex

This image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope features an H II region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/M. Meixner

The James Webb Space Telescope, a collaborative effort between NASA, the ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), has revealed some stunning new images of the Universe. These images have not only been the clearest and most details views of the cosmos; they’ve also led to new insight into cosmological phenomena. The latest image, acquired by Webb‘s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), is of the star-forming nebula N79, located about 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). The image features a bright young star and the nebula’s glowing clouds of dust and gas from which new stars form.

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This Alien Landscape is Actually a Microscopic View of an Atomic Clock

This looks like the landscape feature called penitentes that form in the icy cold on Pluto. But it's actually a glass surface that's part of an atomic clock. Image Credit: Safran/ESA

Navigation satellites couldn’t accomplish anything without extremely accurate clocks. But a regular clock won’t do. Only atomic clocks are accurate enough, and that’s because they tell time with electrons.

Those atomic clocks wear out over time, and that’s what the image shows.

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Chinese Rocket Lofts the Einstein Probe and its “Lobster Eyes”

Einstein Launch

Any astronomical instrument dubbed “Lobster Eyes” is bound to grab attention. It’s actually unlike scientists to give anything creative names, take the big red coloured storm on Jupiter which resembles a spot…aka the Great Red Spot! Lobster Eyes is the name adtoped by the X-ray telescope that just been launched from China and will scan the sky looking for X-rays coming from high-energy transients. 

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ESA Gives Us a Glimpse of its Future Space Exploration Plans with a Cool New Video

Image credit: ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has made incredible contributions to space exploration and space-based science. Last year, the agency launched the Euclid space telescope, which will survey the Universe back to 3 billion years after the Big Bang to measure cosmic expansion and the influence of Dark Energy. After more than a decade of development, the Ariane 6 launch vehicle conducted its first full-scale dress rehearsal, which included an engine fire test. In a recent video, the ESA showcased its plans for the future, which include some new launch vehicles and engine technology.

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Ouch. Canadarm2 Took a Direct Hit From a Micrometeorite

Canadarm with a micrometeorite impact: ESA/NASA-A.Mogensen.

Living in space comes with risks. For astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), those risks occasionally make themselves intrusively apparent.

Earlier this month, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen snapped a photo of the Canadarm2, in which damage from a micrometeorite impact is clearly visible.

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ESA’s Ariel Mission is Approved to Begin Construction

An artist's impression of the ESA's Ariel space telescope. It'll examine 1,000 exoplanet atmospheres. Image Credit: ESA

We’re about to learn a lot more about exoplanets. The ESA has just approved the construction of its Ariel mission, which will give us our first large survey of exoplanet atmospheres. The space telescope will help us answer fundamental questions about how planets form and evolve.

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