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MSRAL 2006 Convention

July Regular Meeting at SLAS

July 20, 2007 at 7:30 pm
McDonnell Hall, Washington University

Comets: Ancient Messengers


Dr. Erika Gibb
Department of Physics and Astronomy

University of Missouri - St. Louis

Dr. Gibb will talk about both historical and modern observations of comets, concentrating on the exciting results of recent studies. Comets are rock-and-ice bodies, born as the earth and the other planets formed, about 4.6 billion years ago. Most comets reside far beyond the orbit of Pluto, but some are pulled by gravity into the inner solar system. Those that venture within the orbit of Jupiter develop the very long, ultra-thin tails that make them such spectacular objects in the night sky. Comets may hold clues to the formation of the planets and perhaps even the origin of life on Earth. Recent spacecraft missions have provided close-up views of the cores of comets. One spacecraft even returned to earth some dust from a comet. In addition to describing the nature and origin of comets, Dr. Gibb will also discuss some unanswered questions in comet science, and indicate how scientists will try to resolve them.

Erika Gibb is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis. Her research interests involve astrochemistry and astrobiology. Her observational research includes studies with the giant Keck telescopes in Hawaii of gas and dust disks surrounding young stars. She also investigates the nature and evolution of the enormous interstellar clouds of dust and gas from which new stars will form. She is particularly interested in the formation of complex organic molecules within these clouds and disks, and of the role these molecules play in the origin of life ? on Earth and perhaps elsewhere.


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