Europe’s comet chaser, Rosetta, recently performed a couple of remarkable feats. After Rosetta discovered ESA’s lost Philae lander lodged in a crevice of Comet 67P, it has also discovered complicated organic molecules on the comet’s surface.
Rosetta performed all these amazing achievements right before it runs out of fuel and funding. It is expected to crash into the comet’s surface, marking the grand finale of its mission on 30 September.
Like most space probes and the innovative spacecraft that comes with each of them, Rosetta will also meet its end. But before that happens, it has discovered solid complex organic molecules on the surface of comet 67P — a vital scientific milestone concerning comets proven for the first time ever.
During Rosetta’s observation, it has detected some complex organic molecules in the dust grains surrounding the comet. This heightened the excitement of scientists involved in the mission since it supports the theory that the building blocks of life may still be embedded on the surface of space rocks.
Rosetta is the first comet mission to provide clear evidence of solid organic matter from dusty organic particles surrounding a comet. These dust grains, called Kenneth and Juliette, were further discussed in the journal Nature.
The grains were captured using Rosetta’s mass spectrometer called Cometary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser (COSIMA) in May and October 2015. “Our analysis reveals carbon in a far more complex form than expected,” Hervé Cottin, one of the authors of the study, said in a press release. “It is so complex, we can’t give it a proper formula or a name.”
Based on the progress of the study, organic signatures were observed from 200 plus grains of dust analyzed. The complex organic molecules are composed of previously reported elements such as sodium, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, calcium and iron but mixed with carbon and an extremely high amount of hydrogen compared to meteorites.
The solid organic matter is also said to be insoluble due to its properties. “The carbon in this organic material is bound in very large macromolecular compounds, analogous to the insoluble organic matter found in the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites,” one of the authors said in a statement.
The solid organic molecules observed from dust grains surrounding a meteor are entirely different from those observed from meteorites. Meteorites are believed to lose hydrogen due to heating, an incident that doesn’t occur with icy comets. This discovery will help scientists further understand the composition of comets and will pave the way for the direction of future comet probes.