The finding sheds more light on the formation of comets and their structure.
Scientists have always agreed that comets contain water ice but in which form – amorphous or crystalline. The debate has been going on for decades.
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Now, it appears that this dispute is coming to an end since scientists have found the evidence of a crystalline form of ice called clathrates in the atmosphere surrounding comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The finding is significant because it will help researchers better understand the evolution and formation of comets.
“The structure and phase of the ice is important because it tells us a lot about how and where the comet may have formed.” Lead researcher Dr. Adrienn Luspay-Kuti from Southwest Research Institute said in a statement.
The conclusion has been drawn after analyzing Rosetta spacecraft’s data. European Space Agency’s Rosetta has been studying icy body 67P since 2014.
The amorphous and crystalline water ice are different from each other because they have different geometric arrangements of molecules. Amorphous ice consists of water molecules arranged in disordered state whereas crystalline ice contains regularly arranged molecules and almost all the water ice on Earth is in the form of crystalline ice. Amorphous water ice discharges volatile compounds simultaneously upon warming while crystalline structures released gases at characteristic temperatures and indicates that the comet may have formed closer to the Sun than originally thought.
“If the building blocks of 67P were predominantly crystalline ices and clathrates, then 67P likely agglomerated from chunks of ice closer to the Sun,” said Luspay-Kuti. “The protosolar nebula closer to the Sun experienced higher temperatures and more turbulence where crystalline ices could form as the nebula cooled. More pristine amorphous likely dominated the colder outskirts of the rotating disk of dust and gas that surrounds the core of a developing solar system.”
A team of researchers analyzed mass spectrometer data from the southern region of 67P from September to October 2014 and found that gases are being released from the comet’s nucleus in a pattern similar to that of clathrates.
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“Without direct sampling of the nucleus interior, evaluating the composition of the coma provides the best clues about the ice structure and as a result the possible origin of cometary nuclei,” said Luspay-Kuti. "Thought to closely reflect the composition of the building blocks of our solar system, comets carry important about the prevalent conditions in the solar nebula before and after planet formation. These icy bodies help us understand the big picture.”