Lecture to reveal comet’s secrets

Some of the secrets of the solar system will be unveiled at a public lecture next week by a planetary scientist from Imperial College in London.

Lecture to reveal comet’s secrets

Matthew Genge, an expert on extra-terrestrial dust and one of a number of scientists studying samples collected by a Nasa probe sent to a distant comet, will be speaking at Trinity College in Dublin on Monday.

The scientists are investigating the theory that comets may have provided our planet with some of the water and organic material that allowed life to develop on Earth.

“I’ve looked at thousands of extra-terrestrial dust particles over the years, but it’s tremendously exciting to have bits of known comet quite literally at the tips of our fingers,” said Dr Genge, speaking in advance of the lecture.

“Stardust was like seeing an entire solar system in a speck even smaller than a grain of sand,” said Dr Genge. “Nothing is more exciting as holding a piece of rock returned from space by Nasa. It is a childhood dream.”

Nasa’s Stardust flyby mission of comet Wild 2 used a spacecraft to collect particles from the comet’s tail while moving at about 6km per second. These particles were then returned to Earth, where he and his colleagues in Britain and the US could study them.

“Not since the Apollo days have we had the opportunity to look at material brought back from space,” said Dr Genge.

“These few thousands of a gram of dust may tell us more about comets than the last 100 years of telescope observations.”

His lecture promises to be entertaining as well as enlightening.

“There is something that is always on your mind when working with tiny extraterrestrial dust particles — don’t sneeze,” he said.

Dr Genge’s research interests also concern life on Mars and terrestrial volcanoes.

For more details, see www.astronomy.ie

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