Comet researchers meet at TU Vienna

From October 24-26, 2011, a group of 15 comet researchers from Germany, France, Finland and Austria met at the Institute of Chemical Engineering, TU Vienna.

On 2 March 2004 the European Space Agency launched the space mission Rosetta; it will reach the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014. Rosetta will enter into an orbit around the comet, and release a small "lander" unit to land softly on the comet surface. The instruments on the Rosetta "orbiter" will investigate the comet from some distance and will collect and analyze cometary dust.

One of the orbiter’s instruments is "COSIMA", a time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometer (TOF-SIMS). The COSIMA project is under the guidance of the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, and involves several research groups from Europe. TU Vienna contributed methods for data analysis as well as software (Kurt Varmuza and collaborators, Institute of Chemical Engineering, research group Thermal Engineering and Simulation).

The COSIMA project team gathers twice per year for "operational team meetings" to prepare future measurements of dust particles directly at the comet (by 2014 and 2015), and to analyze data collected by COSIMA’s twin instrument operated at MPS. The latest meeting took place from 24-26 October 2011 at the Institute of Chemical Engineering at TU Vienna, and was opened by Anton Friedl, leader of the research group. The meeting was guided by the principal investigator of COSIMA, Martin Hilchenbach (MPS), and allowed the 15 comet researchers from Germany (6), France (5), and Finland (2) as well as Kurt Varmuza and Bettina Liebmann from TU Vienna to discuss methods for TOF-SIMS data analysis and appropriate software tools. The measurements at the comet primarily aim at identifying minerals, detecting classes of organic molecules, and measuring isotope ratios.

In the coming two years, telephone conferences are planned to simulate the ,,we are at the comet" scenario with measurements being performed at the comet, and a subsequent quick, preliminary interpretation of experimental data for planning additional measurements. The discussions and agreements during the meeting set the stage for further intense collaboration of the Institute of Chemical Engineering at TU Vienna in the COSIMA project.