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Scientists start collecting ISON comet dust in the Antarctic

January 14, 2014, 20:51 UTC+3 14
This substance is almost as old as the Solar System - 4.6 billion years
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© AP Photo/ESA&NASA SOHO/SDO

ST. PETERSBURG, January 14 (Itar-Tass) - Russian scientists are setting about collecting dust from the ruined ISON comet dispersed above the Earth. This substance is almost as old as the Solar System - 4.6 billion years.

Scientists from B.P. Konstantinov St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, Valery Solovey and Yury Chetverikov, have set the ‘traps’ for fragments of the space wanderer that died on approaches to the Sun, the head of the cryoastrobiology laboratory at St. Petersburg University, Sergey Bulat, told Itar-Tass Monday. The collection process will take two days, January 14 and 15. A case with dust will then be pressurized and delivered to St. Petersburg, for the scientists to compare it to the dust collected several days ago. The experiment should show which dust falls out around the year and which only at the moment the Earth crosses ISON’s trajectory.

“The dust that may be ‘trapped’ lagged behind the comet nucleus thousands of years ago and shifted along its trajectory by 300 million kilometres under the impact of the solar wind,” the head of astronomic research at the Ka-Dar observatory in the Moscow Region, Stanislav Korotky, told Itar-Tass, adding the Earth will go through the point nearest to the comet’s trajectory at 2 a.m. Moscow time, on January 16. ISON was noticed here on November 1, 2013, when moving towards the Sun.

However, our planet will not cross the comet’s orbit lying 3 million kilometres away from the line of the comet nucleus, which is almost eight times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Therefore, the scientists will not find much dust, though there are some chances. Korotky likened the complicated task to face the physicists to “watching a TV without an antenna”.

According to Bulat, the scientists will carry out three operations, the last scheduled for January 24-25. The Antarctic has been chosen as the cleanest place on Earth. The scientists are hoping to find comet fragments that are as small as one micron in diameter, but even these tiny particles can tell much about the origin of life and the make-up of the Universe.

Collection work is in progress near the Russian inland winter station Vostok.

ISONComet/2012 S1 was discovered on September 21, 2012 by Russian amateur astronomer Artyom Novichonok and his Belrusian colleague Vitaly Nevsky. In November 2013 the comet’s luminosity rivalled the brightness of Venus - the brightest spot in the night sky. On November 28, while crossing the perihelion, the point nearest to the Sun, the comet vanished from the scientists’ range of vision.

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