PSI Senior Scientist Thomas H. Prettyman has been awarded NASA funding to continue developing a groundbreaking way to study the deep interiors of asteroids and comets, like Comet Hartley 2 shown above, using high-energy muons and other particles generated by galactic cosmic rays.
“Our goal is to make a CAT scan of a small body orbiting the Sun,” Prettyman said. “Seeing the interior structure of an asteroid or comet will answer fundamental questions about their formation and evolution, and provide information needed for planetary defense, mining, and in situ resource utilization.”
Muons are subatomic particles similar to, but more massive than, electrons. High-energy muons can penetrate hundreds of meters of rock. On Earth, muons have been used to image the interior structure of the Great Pyramids and volcanoes.
PSI will be receiving more than $500,000 over two years from a Phase II NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) award. Prettyman received NIAC Phase I funding for the project last year. The NIAC program provides investment to support the development of breakthrough technologies needed to support NASA’s exploration plans beyond low-Earth orbit.