The Rosetta spacecraft has been probing for almost two years. Now it made a ground breaking discovery.
Ingredients regarded as crucial for the origin of life on Earth have been discovered at the comet that ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has been probing for almost two years.
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They include the amino acid glycine, which is commonly found in proteins, and phosphorus, a key component of DNA and cell membranes. Amino acids are biologically important organic compounds containing carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, and form the basis of proteins.
“This is the first unambiguous detection of glycine at a comet,” says Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator of the ROSINA instrument that made the measurements, and lead author of the paper published in Science Advances today.
“At the same time, we also detected certain other organic molecules that can be precursors to glycine, hinting at the possible ways in which it may have formed.”
The measurements were made before the comet reached its closest point to the Sun – perihelion – in August 2015 in its 6.5 year orbit.
The first detection was made in October 2014 while Rosetta was just 10 km from the comet. The next occasion was during a flyby in March 2015, when it was 30–15 km from the nucleus.
“We see a strong link between glycine and dust, suggesting that it is probably released perhaps with other volatiles from the icy mantles of the dust grains once they have warmed up in the coma,” says Kathrin.
One theory how life evolved on earth is through a comet. The discovery on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko could be proof of that theory.
Rosetta is a space probe built by the European Space Agency launched on 2 March 2004. Along with Philae, its lander module, Rosetta is performing a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The landing of Philae was a huge accomplishment in 2014.