Organic molecules have been detected on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, suggesting that
life on Earth may have come from distant, icy worlds. Data
collected by the Philae lander’s COSAC
instrument confirm that basic carbon-containing organic molecules
have been “sniffed” from the comet’s thin atmosphere.
It isn’t yet clear how complex the organic molecules
are with further analysis of the data required before more is
known. It also isn’t known exactly what the organic molecules are.
It isn’t clear if the organic molecules detected by Philae are more
significant than the organic compounds found by the Rosetta orbiter.
The results could provide the first evidence to
support the theory that life on Earth came from comets. It has been
speculated that when comets smashed into the dry, ancient Earth
they caused dramatic and complex chemical reactions that formed the
building blocks of life.
Early results also show that 67P has a hard, icy
surface, far harder than had been anticipated. Tilman Spohn,
principal investigator for the MUPUS hammer instrument compared the
surface of the comet to “solid ice”. Data from the thermal
mapper and probe show that 67P has a surface of dust 10-20cm thick,
under which is a strong ice or ice dust mix.
Scientists remain hopeful that the SD2 drill, the last
of ten instruments used on the surface, may have collected at least
some soil for analysis. Philae ran out of battery power shortly
after midnight on Saturday 16 November, with scientists scrambling
to collect data before the plucky lander stopped sending data to
the Rosetta orbiter.
It is still hoped that Philae will come back to life
as the comet continues its approach towards the Sun. Either the
angle of sunlight it receives or the intensity of the sunlight
could bring the lander back to life.