Feb 18, 2019 | Updated: 07:41 AM EST

Philae Lander Reveals Organic Molecules on Comet 67P

Nov 18, 2014 08:12 PM EST


For ten years, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta Mission has been on a path towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in hopes of finding answers to the origins of our solar system. And when the Rosetta Mission's Philae Lander landed Nov. 12, researchers thought they'd find their answers. But with a myriad of errors and strange complications added to the mixture, the Philae Lander had a tough, short time to collect all of its data.

Yet, even in spite of all the difficulties thrown into the mix, researchers at the ESA announced today that an analysis of Philae's data reveals "organic" molecules on Comet 67P, much like those found here on Earth.

While early models and theories suggested that the comet's surface was largely covered in water-ice with a thin layer of dust, researchers now say that carbon-containing "organics" may be amongst the interstellar dust settled on the comet's surface revealing a possible clue as to how these chemical ingredients once arrived on our planet Earth.

The carbon-containing organic molecules were first detected by the German-built Cosac instrument, equipped on the Philae Lander to help "sniff" out the comet's thin atmosphere. And while researchers have not yet revealed the full complexity of the organic molecules, as they're still interpreting results, principal investigator of the instrument Dr. Fred Goessmann has confirmed that the team has indeed found organic molecules and that they are now looking into how comets like 67P could have contributed building blocks to the Earth's primordial soup.

 Additional preliminary data from the Philae's Mupus instrument, which deploys a hammer to assess the surface layer of Comet 67P, suggests that the comet's surface is made primarily of dense frozen water-ice, with a 10-20cm thick layer of dust containing organic compounds.

"It's within a very broad spectrum of ice models. It was harder than expected at that location, but it's still within bounds" senior science adviser for the ESA, Mark McCaughrean says. "The fact that we landed up against something may actually be in our favor."

"If we'd landed on the main surface, the dust layer may have been even thicker, and it's possible we might not have gone down [to the ice]."

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