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Cometary science in the frame of the Comet Interceptor (ESA-JAXA) mission

Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucia (CSIC)
Fecha inicio solicitud: 
Dom, 15/01/2023
Fecha límite solicitud: 
Mié, 25/01/2023


The importance of studying comets to advance in the knowledge of the processes that shaped our Solar System is recognized by the different space agencies, and especially by the European Space Agency. The huge scientific returns of Giotto, Rosetta, and other comet missions are unquestioned. These ground-breaking endeavours have all explored periodic comets that have approached the Sun many times, and thus undergone surface compositional and morphological modification, and blanketing by thick layers of dust. Thus, a truly pristine comet has yet to be encountered and explored.

The future Comet Interceptor (ESA/JAXA) mission, in whose definition the PhD advisors (Dr. Pedro J. Gutiérrez and Dr. Luisa M.Lara) have contributed and currently are Co-Investigators and Co-Lead Scientists of several instruments, is aimed at this goal. This mission is a new approach to explore a comet very likely entering the inner Solar System for the first time, or, possibly, to encounter an interstellar object originating at another star. Due to the extremely high orbital eccentricities of either type of target, the Comet Interceptor mission is by necessity a flyby like Giotto spacecraft rather than a rendezvous like Rosetta, but the concept of the mission is scientifically compelling, and it combines the first exploration of a new type of target, as was the case for Giotto, with unique measurements that go beyond what Rosetta achieved, in some areas.

The pre-doc researcher would follow the Physics and Space Sciences doctoral programme of the University of Granada. As we expect a deep involvement with the Comet Interceptor mission, several stays at different European research institutions of the team are foreseen. We plan short stays at DLR in Berlin, at the Edinburgh University and at the Istituto di Fotonica e Nanotecnologiein Padova, among others.

The main goal will be the development of new tools to analyse the coma of comets, mainly from the gas composition standpoint, and apply them to analyse both observations that we already have available and to new comets to be observed. After a first period in which the predoctoral is expected to acquire the basic knowledge related to the field, it is planned his/her training in observing comets (both through spectra and broad band filters) taking advantage of our large experience in the field. In parallel, the FPI, starting from the codes already available to us, will develop new tools, considering our present understanding of coma processes, to analyse coma data. The application to actual observations is granted as we already have a large archived set of cometary data. Due to the potential involvement of the predoc in the Comet Interceptor mission, there are strong chances that he/she will continue his/her career in cometary science as postdoc in the frame of the Comet Interceptor mission as Associated Scientist.