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Comets Release Massive Amounts Of Green House Gases, NEOWISE Takes Measurements

First Posted: Nov 24, 2015 01:34 PM EST
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Comets have been producing large amounts of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide gases, which are common greenhouse gases, now the NASA NEOWISE spacecraft is making it possible for researchers to measure the production rates of these gases in comets, according to a recent study.

"This is the first time we've seen such large statistical evidence of carbon monoxide taking over as a comet's gas of choice when they are farther out from the sun," James Bauer, coauthor of the study said in a news release. Bauer is also a deputy investigator of NASA's NEOWISE mission in California.

Comets are often referred to as the ''dirty snowballs'' of space, where they release interesting amounts of gas and dust. It is difficult to keep track of carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2), which are released by comets, as these gases are wide spread in parts of the solar system and in comets.

Since the NEOWISE spacecraft hovers over the earth's atmosphere, (it was launched in 2009) it has enabled researchers to monitor the gas emissions that are released from comets. CO and CO2 are known as two of the main drivers of comets.

The findings is enabling researchers now have a better understanding of how comets store gases when they are formed. Most of these gases are stored for billions of years and their production accelerates as they approach the sun's proximity.

"As they get closer to the sun, these comets seem to produce a prodigious amount of carbon dioxide," Bauer said. "Your average comet sampled by NEOWISE would expel enough carbon dioxide to provide the bubble power for thousands of cans of soda per second."

The findings of this study were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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