As if the Rosetta comet probe mission wasn’t cool enough already, the team behind the Rosetta mission says that they’ve discovered organic compounds in the comet’s atmosphere. The discovery could give scientists new insight into the origins of life on Earth.
A report in the Wall Street Journal said that the German agency behind the Rosetta mission was currently analyzing the findings of the Rosetta probe’s analytic data of the comet’s atmosphere. The initial findings, though, indicated that the Philae lander had, in fact, detected organic compounds within the comet’s atmosphere.
Organic compounds are the very building blocks of life on earth. The term encompasses compounds containing the carbon atom and it includes combinations as simple as methane and methanol and as complex as the amino acids that make up proteins. The Rosetta team is currently analyzing the probe’s findings in order to determine the complexity of the organic compounds detected.
In addition to the probe’s atmospheric sampling, the Philae probe also grabbed material samples from the comet’s body using a drill. The data from that experiment has not been fully analyzed.
The team isn’t totally surprised by the findings. It had, in fact, expected that organic molecules would be found on Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko. The Rosetta mission, though, did provide the first opportunity to search directly for organic materials on and around the comet.
The discovery of something like an amino acid on the surface of a comet would lend credence to notions that life on Earth has extraterrestrial origins. One proposal for the origin of Earth’s life posits that comets collided with Earth, seeding the planet with the materials necessary for life.
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