Scientists Explain Oxygen Mystery On Comet 67P

Posted: Jul 6 2018, 3:46pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Explain Oxygen Mystery on Comet 67P
An image of comet 67P taken by Rosetta. Credit: European Space Agency

New study suggests that molecular oxygen on comet 67P is not created on its surface

In 2015, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft made an unexpected discovery of molecular oxygen on Comet 67P. Molecular oxygen (two oxygen atoms joined together) is produced in massive amounts on Earth and is regarded as a sign of life. Although molecular oxygen has been previously found on some of the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter, 67P was the first comet on which this ingredient was detected.

The discovery that a comet has large quantities of molecular oxygen was a big surprise for scientists. That is because molecular oxygen in space is highly unstable and cannot retain its pristine state for billions of years as it can easily mix with other elements. Given all that, Rosetta team originally proposed that molecular oxygen on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko might have thawed from its main body or nucleus. It was likely primordial, meaning it has been present inside the comet since the beginning of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. However, another group of scientists suggested that there might be a different source for molecular oxygen at comets. It could be triggered by the reactions of energetic ions on their surface. When researchers analyzed the data on 67P's oxygen in light of the new theory, they found that proposed mechanism is not sufficient to explain the observed levels of molecular oxygen on comet.

"The first detection of molecular oxygen in 67P's coma was both very surprising and exciting,” said lead author Mr Kevin Heritier, from the Department of Physics at Imperial College.

"We tested the new theory of surface molecular oxygen production using observations of energetic ions, particles which trigger the surface processes which could lead to the production of molecular oxygen. We found that the amount of energetic ions present could not produce enough molecular oxygen to account for the amount of molecular oxygen observed in the coma."

Researchers suggest that there may be other processes at work on the surface of comet 67P but originally proposed theory is still the best explanation for abundant levels of molecular oxygen in the comet's atmosphere.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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