Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is dying to see it through a telescope, but what would it look like up close?
Scientists have no way of taking a spacecraft to stunning green comet during internal release solar system — but they will be in the next decade, thanks to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Comet Interceptor. Scheduled to launch in 2029, this mission will spend several years about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away. Soilwaiting for a curious comet to fly deep into the inner solar system. But if the Comet Interceptor were already in space, scientists would send it buzzed into space. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).
“Currently the brightest comet in the sky, Comet ZTF is the most promising virtual target ever for the Comet Interceptor,” ESA’s Comet Interceptor study scientist Michael Kueppers said at NASA’s Small Objects Evaluation Group meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 26).
Related: Spectacular photos of the gorgeous green Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
Kueppers said the scientific team was preparing for the mission by evaluating “virtual targets”—objects the Comet Interceptor team might consider visiting if the probe were already in space. Whichever comet gets lucky, it will be subject to a brief, but comprehensive, examination by the main spacecraft and two smaller probes.
Mission scientists hope to target an active comet that has never passed. Sun former. Such an object rains from ice Oort Cloud far beyond the orbit of Pluto; By capturing an object in the sun’s first cycle, scientists will be able to see the pristine material reacting to the sun’s heat.
Or, if the Comet Interceptor is particularly lucky, scientists will detect its successor, another interstellar object. Oumuamua and comet Borisov that’s a one-time trip through our solar system.
It’s unusual for a mission – although many spacecraft gain additional targets after launch, the Comet Interceptor will be in space before scientists see its main target.
The spacecraft will hitchhike with ESA’s Atmospheric Remote Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large Investigation (Ariel) mission, which will spend four years covering up to 1,000 atmospheres. exoplanets.
After launch, Comet Interceptor will head towards Earth-sun Lagrangian point 2 (L2), same deep space “parking lot” James Webb Space Telescope orbits. At Lagrangian points, the gravitational pulls are balanced, so it would be relatively inexpensive to keep the spacecraft at its station while waiting for scientists to identify a promising target. The team will need to decide on their plans at least six months before they leave L2 to rendezvous with a comet.
But imagine the Comet Interceptor at its station in early March 2022, when scientists first detected Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). Intrigued mission personnel may have begun toying with the trajectories that the Comet Interceptor could use to rendezvous with the object. If the spacecraft had set off at the end of August, they would have seen it pass by the comet on February 14. 12, just a month after the snowball’s closest approach to the sun, and a little less than a year after the object’s discovery.
However, Kueppers noted that the C/2022 E3 is not an ideal target. The team will need to prepare for takeoff fairly quickly, and the flight will take place a little further from the sun than scientists would prefer. While mission personnel hoped to capture a comet that had never visited the inner solar system before, C/2022 E3 did so, albeit 50,000 years ago.
“It’s probably not dynamically new,” Kueppers said. “He’s reasonably active, so we can agree, but it depends on the activity.”
And if this scenario had been played out during the actual mission of the Comet Interceptor, takeoff preparation time probably wouldn’t have been an issue. thanks to this Vera Rubin Observatory In Chile, which will conduct 10 years of Ancient Space and Time Survey (LSST) from early 2025. LSST is expected to discover about 6 million solar system objects, and most of what it finds will come relatively early in this survey.
About the virtual C/2022 E3 scenario, Kueppers said, “Discovery is a little late, but we’re not worried about it because we expect these comets to be discovered with LSST significantly earlier.”
The analysis highlights the types of decisions scientists must make during the Comet Interceptor mission. They’ll just take a shot and don’t know in advance what the solar system will send their way. If they are too eager, they may miss a more interesting target; if they are too cautious, they may still find themselves in L2 a few years after launch, and time is running out with no targets in sight. While the dream is an active, long-period comet, the team will need to see what happens and whether an object like C/2022 E3 will visit.
“Statistically, we expect to have a few candidate targets, not dozens,” Kueppers said. Said. “We also can’t rely on a dynamically new comet, so we would potentially use a comet like ZTF.”
Email Meghan Bartels at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us from Twitter @spacedotcom and he Facebook.
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