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Philae lander finds organic molecules of Comet 67P

The Philae lander has found organic molecules on Comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Organic molecules found in comets could have been the ingredients that started life on Earth. In the early days of the solar system, comets and asteroids commonly crashed into Earth and some of these could have carried organic molecules to Earth. The organic molecules found were formed in the very early solar system.

The detection of organic molecules was only part of the data found by Philae. Most of the data returned to Earth was obtained while Philae was airborne. A series of experiments was programmed to begin once Philae landed on the comet but once the harpoons failed to fire and it bounced of the comet, most of the experiments were performed during the two hours above the comet.

Philae has two instruments used to study gas composition, COSAC and Ptolemy. Samples of gas and dust kicked up during the landing entered tubes at the bottom of the lander. These samples were analyzed by the COSAC tool. It was in these samples several organic compounds were found. Four of the compounds were found for the first time in a comet. These were acetone, methyl isocyanite, acetamide and propionaldehyde. Several amino acids were also found. Amino acids are what make up proteins, which are very important for life.

Ptolemy studied gases that entered tubes in the top of the lander. These were primary atmospheric, or coma, gases. In the coma of the comet, Philae found water vapor, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and formaldehyde among trace amounts

Probably the most exciting organic compound found was formaldehyde, which is important in the formation of ribose molecules, which are part of the structure of DNA. Many of the other compounds found are important to the production of other biologically important molecules.

These findings show that the molecules important for life were formed in the early solar system, long before life began on Earth. What is still a mystery however, is if they were brought to Earth by comets or of they were there were present on Earth shortly after its formation.

About Harry H

Harry H
Harry is currently studying biology and chemistry in University and hopes to go to grad school for evolutionary biology. He enjoys writing about sciences and sports and is a big fan of hockey and soccer. Some of his other interests are reading and rock climbing. Contact Harry: harry.h@youthindependent.com