Scientists have announced a surprising finding yesterday: measurements from the Rosetta probe suggest that the comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko contains great amounts of oxygen on its surface.
Researcher Andre Bieler from the University of Michigan says that the finding challenges many theories relating to the formation of our Solar System. The oxygen molecules that were spotted in the 67P comet’s gassy halo are said to have existed “before or at” its formation.
“”We believe this oxygen is primordial, which means it is older than our Solar System,” said Bieler.
It was previously thought that oxygen molecules could not be present on comets like the 67P. Since O2 combines with other elements with ease, it was inconceivable that it could remain as oxygen for so many years, as explained by co-author Kathrin Altwegg from the University of Bern.
“This evidence of oxygen as an ancient substance will likely discredit some theoretical models of the formation of our Solar System,” she said.
According to Altwegg, the O2 molecules might have “survived from the dark molecular clouds from which they were probably formed into comets as we have them today”.
Scientists not involved in the study have also commented on the implications.
French astrophysicist Francis Rocard says the finding “imposes a severe constraint on the mechanism for the formation of the Solar System”.
“But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” he added.
The Rosetta spacecraft of the European Space Agency has been following the comet closely since some time now. Watch the video when it released its lander Philae on the comet last year here.
The series of research are expected to bring answers pertaining to the origins of life on our own planet because comets are thought to have brought ingredients for life on Earth a long time ago. Earlier this year, it was even suggested that 67P might be harbouring microbial life in its midst.
Another finding reaped by the researchers was a “comet song” that was captured by Rosetta; apparently, the sound came from the 67P itself. The comet does, indeed, have a certain allure to it that keeps on stimulating the curiosity of scientists.