A group of researchers found the basic components of life in the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The researchers studied the information provided by “Rosetta”, which is a space probe built by the European Space Agency launched on March 2, 2004.
The lead author of the study is Kathrin Altwegg from the Physikalisches Institut, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland, and the paper was published in the Journal of Science Advances on May 27, 2016.
She and her team wanted to confirm the findings published in a previous paper that was published back in 2004. That study was the result of a NASA mission called Stardust. Stardust approached the tail of comet Wild 2 and collected dust samples. The collected “dirt” was brought back to Earth, and scientists found glycine, methylamine and ethylamine; all considered to be important ingredients of life as we know it. However, the team that studied the material could not rule out a possible contamination of the samples on its way back to our planet, and the results could not be used as scientific evidence.
How does life start?
We don’t really know how life originated in our planet, but we do know what elements are necessary for it to exist here. Among many other things, scientists believe that water and amino acids are needed to trigger the spark of life. But there is one problem, the process that gives form to a planet is too hostile for these things to survive it, and this is when comets shine.
According to some scientists, comets played a major part in the formation of our planet. When particles in a gas cloud are brought together by gravity, and temperatures go down, a planet starts to take form. Even though there are already many elements in it, the ingredients of life are still missing at this moment. The comet theory says, these celestial missiles transport building material across the galaxy including water and amino acids.
A space probe is a device that allows researchers to take and analyze samples taken directly from celestial bodies. Now, comets in particular are very cold; in fact, they are giant pieces of ice, so how does a spacecraft take material from it? Well, there are many ways, but the most practical is waiting for it to be “close” to a sun. Once there, the temperatures are so incredibly high that the material trapped in the ice starts going from solid to gas without becoming water, this process is called sublimation. At this moment, the probe’s job becomes much easier since it can start collecting “dust” coming out of the “falling star”.
The method has a lot of benefits, but it takes patience and a lot of time. That is why the European Space Agency designed “Rossetta”, a spacecraft with the objective of collecting information on the members forming our cosmic society. The probe first approached 67P on August 6, 2014, and it has been following its orbit ever since.
The probe collected dust directly from the coma which is the cloudy envelope that covers the heart of a comet. The spacecraft uses a very complex process called ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) to analyze samples collected from a comet. The team led by Altwegg based their article on the data collected by Rossetta.
“We report the presence of volatile glycine accompanied by methylamine and ethylamine in the coma of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko measured by the ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) mass spectrometer, confirming the Stardust results. Together with the detection of phosphorus and a multitude of organic molecules, this result demonstrates that comets could have played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth,” the paper reads.
Source: Science Magazine