The Philae Spacecraft Confirmed the Presence of Organic Molecules on the Comet it Landed On

Researchers hope the finding sheds light on how organic molecules might have first arrived on Earth

An artist's interpretation of the Philae lander separating from Rosetta and landing on the comet. Photo: ESA/Handout/Corbis

Scientists have confirmed the presence of organic compounds—the building blocks of life—in the atmosphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Wall Street Jouranl reports. The exact composition of the molecules is still being determined. 

Researchers have long hypothesized that comets helped to seed the Earth with the organic material necessary for life to form. In August, the Rosetta probe detected several organic molecules in the comet's gaseous wake, including water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and methanol, the Journal writes. But this is the first time, the Guardian adds, that we've been able to directly sample a comet directly for the presence of complex compounds. Studying which molecules are present and attempting to determine how they form can potentially lend insight into the history of life on our own planet. 

Scientists had originally hoped to sample both the comet's atmosphere and soil before Philae's batteries died last Friday, the Guardian reports. But Philae's drill encountered an exceptionally hard surface. The team thinks the comet's surface is not solid rock but is simply frozen.

The hope is that, as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko approaches the sun in the coming months, it will begin to thaw. At the same time, the Guardian continues, Philae's solar panels can harvest the energy needed to get the drills running and sample the surface. 

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