Philae found organic molecules on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Philae's trajectory on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Image  ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)
Philae’s trajectory on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

The news hasn’t been officially released by ESA and the details have yet to be assessed after the analysis of the data sent by the lander Philae before it went into hibernation. Unofficially, one of the Philae’s instruments detected organic molecules in the tenuous atmosphere of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko created by the ice sublimation. Meanwhile, ESA has released the images captured by the Rosetta space probe that show Philae’s trajectory after it touched down for the first time on the comet’s surface.

The Philae lander’s work lasted much less than expected because of the location in which it ended, different from the planned one, where it its solar panels received very little sunlight. Philae’s landing was very complex because the harpoons that were supposed to anchor it to the surface didn’t work.

Philae bounced twice before stopping at a point yet not well identified. This was caused by an unexpected soil characteristic: ESA expected a soft surface with a layer of dust, instead it turned out to be hard. This caused Philae’s bounces and also problems with drilling.

The images taken by the Rosetta space probe’s OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System) instrument has so far allowed to identify Philae’s trajectory. At ESA they’re still working on the images and also on the data of the CONSERT (Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission) tomograph to find the exact location of Philae.

For now, ESA has released an image composed of several photographs taken by Rosetta showing various points on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko touched by Philae. The search continues and the probe keeps on working from orbit so new information might be helpful if the lander won’t be found quickly.

One of the goals of the Rosetta / Philae mission was the analysis of the compounds present on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The lander was able to send a huge amount of data before going into hibernation. Finding organic compounds on the comet isn’t a surprise as they have already been found in space. Their analysis will be important to see if the building blocks of the life that evolved on Earth have been brought by comets.

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