Jet Propulsion scientist decodes comets

What can comets tell us about the origin of the solar system?

A lot, if you’re Dr. Paul Weissman, Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Weissman was the Harlow Shapley Astronomy lecturer for a public lecture at  Okanagan College’s Kalamalka campus on March 23 at 7:30 p.m.  This talk was co-presented by the American Astronomical Society and the Science in Society Speaker Series (a joint project by Okanagan Science Center and the Okanagan College).

Weissman unveiled scientists’ understanding of the origin of the solar system through the investigation of comets.

Comets are the most primitive bodies in the solar system.  They contain a mix of volatile ices, organics, and silicate dust brought together more than 4.5 billion years ago when the solar system formed.  For that reason, comets retain a record of physical and chemical conditions in the solar nebula at that critical time in our past.  Scientific exploration of comets using interplanetary spacecraft has greatly increased our knowledge of these primitive bodies over the past decade.  Weissman will review recent results from missions such as Deep Space 1, Stardust, Deep Impact, EPOXI, and Stardust-Next, and what they have told us about how our solar system came to be.

Weissman was a co-investigator on NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter and is an Interdisciplinary Scientist on ESA’s Rosetta mission to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko; he is also a co-investigator on several Rosetta instruments. He is the author of more than 115 refereed publications in the scientific literature and 30 popular articles, is an editor of the Encyclopedia of the Solar System (Academic Press, 2007) and co-author of The Great Voyager Adventure, a children’s book written with Alan Harris. Weissman received his Ph.D. in Planetary and Space Physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1978, and his A.B. in Physics from Cornell University in 1969.

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