Scientists from the University of Southern Queensland have revealed they worked onboard a Phenom 300 to observe comet debris in incredible detail.
The experiment took advantage of the business jet’s 40,000ft flying altitude to capture images of the 73p/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 comet that were free of atmospheric pollution.
It’s hoped the results will provide valuable information regarding the composition and physical properties of the fragments, as well as their flight trajectories.
The comet has been actively disintegrating since its re-entry to the inner Solar System in 1995, with the Hubble Space Telescope capturing imagery of the fragmentation of the comet in 2006.
However, this new observation mission was made possible by Earth encountering the debris stream in early June, allowing for the first opportunity in recent history to observe debris from a newly fragmented comet.
The comet will eventually come to perihelion (the closest approach to the Sun) on 25 August.
The observation team – which also included personnel from Australian company Rocket Technologies alongside researchers from Paris Observatory, the University of Stuttgart and Comenius University, Bratislava – captured data from hundreds of objects piercing the atmosphere at speeds greater than 12km/s.
The outputs of this mission also included the number of meteors per time, meteor spectra and 3D trajectory data.
The RTI and USQ team has experience with flight-based observation missions, successfully performing an airborne observation of the Japanese Hayabusa 2 space capsule as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere after a six-year extra-terrestrial journey.
Dr Fabian Zander from USQ said this previous experience was vital to the mission.
“Although the potential meteor shower has been predicted for some time, the decision to fly an airborne observation mission was only made two weeks prior,” he said.
Rocket Technologies International is a sandstone mining and extraction company that turned its sights on the emerging space industry in Australia.
After a proposal by Peter Schubel from the University of Southern Queensland (‘USQ’) to the company to develop a rocket testing facility at one of its exhausted quarry sites, Rocket Technologies International was created as a sister company, and a partnership was drawn up with the USQ.