Physics Professor Published in Prestigious Science Journal
By David Ogul
The question has vexed astronomers for years: How do water and hydroxyl radicals, which have the same elements as water, surface on asteroids sluicing through space? A paper published Oct. 7 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Nature Astronomy” co-published by Cal State San Marcos Physics Associate Professor Dr. Gerardo Dominguez has found the answer.
Titled “Regenerative water sources on surfaces of airless bodies,” the study concludes that two primary mechanisms are the source of surface water – low-temperature oxidation of organics and mineral dehydration – and they are transformed through the impact of micrometeorites and the heat pulses they generate during an asteroid’s travels.
“Any mechanisms that are discovered that generate water on asteroids are fascinating and help us better understand what is happening in the universe,” Dominguez said. “This helps answer a puzzle as to where this water on asteroid surfaces comes from.”
Dominguez was unaware of the study until he was contacted by the principal investigator, Professor Ralf I. Kaiser, and others at the University of Hawaii. Kaiser and his team had already submitted their research to “Nature Astronomy,” but reviewers were skeptical that the duration of laser pulses used in the experiments, which were aimed at mimicking the heat pulses caused by micrometeorite impacts on asteroid surfaces, were correct. Kaiser came across Dominguez’s earlier research on micrometeorite impacts into solids and asked the CSUSM professor to provide theoretical modeling on the amount of heat and the duration of heat-pulses generated by micrometeorite impacts that were needed to convince “Nature Astronomy’s” peer reviewers.
In fact, Dominguez’s research has long been aimed at unlocking the secrets of the universe. His work has earned Dominguez recognition from the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education as a top researcher in planetary astrophysics and atmospheric chemistry. Ongoing research includes exploring the isotopic composition of molecular clouds to understand how the sun and the planets of our solar system were formed. He also has conducted extensive research in the application of nano-optical techniques for mapping the chemical composition of meteorites and cometary dust grains.
This past summer, a CSUSM team led by Dominguez was one of eight research teams from around the country awarded a $10.5 million grant to study the origins of ice on the moon.
Not bad for a first-generation American and self-described nerd from San Pedro who grew up devouring books about how things worked.
“How the universe works, how atoms work, it all just fascinated me as a kid,” he said.
Dominguez earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in physics from UC Berkeley. He has been teaching at CSUSM since 2011.
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