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Life on Philae Comet 67P/C–G?

Lately, there have been claims of the possibility of the existence of microbial life on the comet of Philae, the 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The latter constitutes harsh environmental conditions that would render the life of microorganisms difficult, but we can never know what the universe is hiding from us!


Spacecraft Philae on touchdown.

The spacecraft Philae had landed on a comet called 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P/C-G) last year. The latter had then captured the attention of scientists because of its strange shape, mineral composition and many more features that seem to stand out. Recently, the claim that the 67P/C-G might be holding microbial life in its midst has generated further interest in the comet.

What is behind the claim? According to the data gathered, the comet has organic-rich, coal-black crust in certain regions. The presence of microorganisms underneath its extremely cold surface might account for the substance. Furthermore, spacecraft Rosetta that has been orbiting the comet might have picked up particles from its surface that resemble those from viruses.

On the other hand, other factors might have caused the presence of the two occurrences, as opposed to microbial life itself.

In the possibility of life on the comet, it would imply that the organisms have to cope with extremely harsh conditions: the water on the comet is in the solid state (ice) or in the form of vapour; the average temperature on its surface is –70 degrees Celcius. Under such circumstances, it is challenging for life to be.

Philae cannot, as of now, directly test the relevance of the claim though: it cannot detect the presence of any microbe on the comet since no such equipment had been added to it.

Other researchers believe that it would be impossible for life to thrive on the comet. For instance, Rosetta researcher Dennis Bodewits, from the University of Maryland, argues that though the building blocks of life might be present, life itself cannot occur on the comet.

“Comets do have complex molecules, and it’s been suggested that comets may have either brought water or complex molecules to Earth.

“Also, in the cloud of gas around it you have a lot of interesting chemistry going on,” he told IFLScience. This might account for the viral particles identified by Rosetta.

All in all, no concrete evidence to prove the existence of life on the comet has been generated. However, the possibility of life on the Philae comet will be discussed at the Royal Astronomical Society’s Astronomy Meeting this week.


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