Astronomers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have proven a long-standing theory of comet colors.
A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed the theory that the blue light emitted by some comets is the result of the unstable element dicarbon (C2). reacts to light as the comet moves closer to the Sun.
This theory first appeared in the 1930s, but due to the unstable nature of dicarbon, scientists have so far been unable to carry out proof experiments.
They were able to run the experiments using a vacuum chamber, multiple lasers and a powerful cosmic reaction, said lead author of the study, professor of chemistry Timothy Schmidt from UNSW.
The experiment took up to nine months to fully set up, and the team was finally able to simulate the decay of dicarbon in the lab, proving it to be the cause of the comet’s green glow.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to have solved a difficult problem,” says Schmidt.
The experiment also shows that the process of dicarbon being decomposed by UV rays from the Sun (also known as photolysis) happens so quickly that light never reaches the tail of the comet – where it usually appears as mist. white blind.
Being able to study dicarbon on Earth has the potential to open new avenues of discovery, says Schmidt.
“By understanding its lifespan and destruction, we can better understand how much organic matter is evaporating from comets. Discoveries like these may one day help us. solve other space mysteries,” according to Schmidt.
Commenting on the study, UNSW geology and astronomy professor Martin van Kranendonk said it could also lead to new discoveries about how Earth and life on Earth formed.