[meteorite-list] Researcher Seeks New Way to Study Asteroid and Comet Interiors

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Jul 2013 10:18:19 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201307191718.r6JHIJGB011960_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Alan Fischer
Public Information Officer
Planetary Science Institute
fischer at psi.edu

PSI Researcher Seeks New Way to Study Asteroid and Comet Interiors

July 19, 2013, Tucson, Ariz. -- Thomas H. Prettyman, Senior Scientist at
the Planetary Science Institute, has been awarded funding from the NASA
Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program to develop a groundbreaking way
to study the deep interiors of asteroids and comets using high-energy muons
and other particles generated by galactic cosmic rays.

For comets, muon imaging could determine how volatiles are transported from
the interior of the nucleus by directly imaging the vent system and related
structures. And information on the porosity, density distribution and
internal structure of small asteroids would provide data on their
formation, evolution and impact history as well as providing information
needed for developing planetary defense strategies.

"Our objective is to develop new types of spacecraft instrumentation and
methods to map the deep interior of asteroids and comets with unprecedented
detail - particularly those in near-Earth orbits," Prettyman said.

Prettyman, along with Steven L. Koontz of NASA Johnson Space Center and
Lawrence S. Pinsky of the University of Houston will investigate the use of
muons, pions and other subatomic particles formed when galactic cosmic rays
strike the surfaces of these objects.

"High-energy muons, which can penetrate rocks hundreds of meters, could
enable sampling of the inside of asteroids and comets to great depth and
with high spatial resolution," Prettyman said. "Muon imaging could also be
applied to near-surface features of large planetary bodies, and would
enable a better understanding of many aspects of their structural, chemical
and physical properties."

Secondary muons produced by galactic cosmic ray collisions with Earth's
atmosphere have already found application in volcanology, archeology, and
national security.

Application to planetary science requires a thorough understanding of how
these particles are produced and transported in planetary atmospheres and
rocky soils, as well as the development of compact instrumentation suitable
for flight, he said.

"Our team will determine whether there is a feasible path to the
development of a new generation of nuclear instrumentation for deep imaging
of asteroids and comets," Prettyman said. "Muon imaging could also be used
to image layered deposits on Mars, as well as volcanic structures, and
search for and characterize subsurface ice and other deposits there."

NIAC Phase I grants, like the one announced today funding Prettyman's
project, aim to turn science fiction into fact. The Phase I awards are
about $100,000 to conduct nine-month initial definition and analysis
studies of a concept. If the basic feasibility studies are successful,
proposers can apply for Phase II funding of as much as $500,000 for two
more years to mature the concept.

Thomas H. Prettyman
Senior Scientist
prettyman at psi.edu

Mark V. Sykes
sykes at psi.edu
Received on Fri 19 Jul 2013 01:18:19 PM PDT

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