Rosetta comet lander just found something that could help explain life on Earth

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Nov 19, 2014

Though the landing was a bit rocky and the Philae lander has temporarily powered down due to a lack of solar power, the ESA’s Rosetta mission sent back some awesome stuff before going dark. 

One interesting tidbit the scientists are parsing through? Findings that indicate organic molecules are present on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. You know, stuff like the essential building blocks of life. The lander’s sensors essentially “sniffed” the comet’s atmosphere and found evidence of carbon and hydrogen.

According to The Guardian, the team believes the discovery could provide new clues about how the early chemical ingredients that led to life on Earth arrived on the planet. One theory: Elements such as those found on the comet could’ve been what sparked life on Earth following a collision millennia ago. So figuring out the organic elements cruising around on Comet 67P could help us better understand our own origins.

This piece of data could be one of the juiciest from the Rosetta mission up to this point, especially since attempts to drill down and analyze soil from the comet’s surface apparently failed due to Philae’s bouncy landing. The data was gathered during the lander’s 60 hours of work before it ran out of juice and went into hibernation. The ESA hopes it’ll be able to recharge and power back up later once the comet comes closer to the sun.

Professor John Zarnecki, the deputy principal investigator on one of Philae’s instruments, noted the organic findings could help explain exactly how those molecules develop in space — and how much landing on a planet like Earth can change them:

“There has long been indirect evidence of organic molecules on comets as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms have been found in comet dust. It has not been possible to see if these are forming complex compounds before and if this is what has been found then it is a tremendous discovery.”

Considering the lander sent back reams and reams of data, the ESA should be pretty busy poring through it for a while. We can’t wait to see what else they find.

(Via The Guardian)