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On the Hypervelocity Micrometeoroid Bombardment of Ice and Icy Regolith in the Laboratory

Andrew Nelson
Delivered As: 
Abstract Text: 

A new cryogenic target chamber has been designed, constructed and tested at the dust accelerator facility at the SSERVI Institute for Modeling Plasma, Atmospheres, and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT) at the University of Colorado Boulder. This work is motivated by the need for a quantifiable experimental investigation of the hypervelocity micrometeoroid impact phenomena that contribute to the evolution of interplanetary icy surfaces. Capabilities granted by this facility are crucial to understanding the interesting complex chemistry and surface weathering effects that result from hypervelocity dust impacts and to calibrate instruments for future space missions. This experiment consists of a cryogenically-controlled target that is equipped with sensitive diagnostic tools and is designed to take full advantage of the existing dust-acceleration technologies at IMPACT. The chamber is designed to hold three categories of icy target designed to model volatile-rich asteroid surfaces: layers of vapor-deposited H2O, CH3OH, or NH3 ice, pre-frozen ice and ice layers and pre-frozen icy regolith mixtures containing nanophase iron, which is a possible catalyst for organic chemical reactions. Using a LN2-cooled copper heat sink and an externally-controlled heater, the ice temperature can be varied between 96K and 150K, allowing for the investigation of various ice structures. During the impact of a dust particle onto the icy target, ion plumes are generated and accelerated through a time-of-flight mass spectrometer, where their composition can be measured even in trace amounts. First results from initial impacts into thick, vapor-deposited water ice have shown promising water-cluster trends and have demonstrated the absence of organic contaminants in the system, paving the way for future investigations involving organic reactions.

Lora Bleacher, Jacob Bleacher, Timothy Glotch, Kelsey Young
SSERVI Identifier: 

Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators at a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts."