Esa has released early scientific data from the Philae lander, revealing not only organic molecules on comet 67P but also the structure and composition of the comet as well.
The data returned from the Cosac (Cometary Sampling and Composition Experiment) instrument showed that the comet has an organic compound containing carbon – an important progenitor for life as we know it.
It was also announced that the surface of the comet was far harder than researchers had expected. Before Philae’s battery died they were also able to form a 3D mapping mission of the comet’s interior using the Rosetta spacecraft.
Rosetta’s lander captivated the world by landing on the surface of a comet last week, but went into hibernation mode late on Friday when its primary battery ran out of power.
However, scientists also said they are ‘very confident’ it will wake up again when the comet moves into an orbit where more sunlight hits its solar panels in a few months – and one Nasa expert even thinks a jet of gas from the comet could move it sooner.
Further analysis of the various scientific data returned by Philae will be needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
But the tentative discovery of organic molecules by Cosac is certainly promising.
It’s also unclear to what extent Philae’s drill was able to penetrate the surface, and whether or not it was able to get a sample back to the lander for analysis – however there have been some suggestions that it failed to do so.
Before going into hibernation at 00:36 GMT on 15 November 2014, the Philae lander was able to conduct some work using power supplied by its primary battery.
With its 10 instruments, the mini laboratory sniffed the atmosphere, drilled, hammered and studied Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko while over 500 million kilometres from Earth.
It was controlled and monitored from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Lander Control Center (LCC). Now, the complicated data analysis begins.
DLR’s Scientific Director for the project, Ekkehard Kührt, said the team were pleased with the results.
‘We have collected a great deal of valuable data, which could only have been acquired through direct contact with the comet,’ he said.
‘Together with the measurements performed by the Rosetta orbiter, we are well on our way to achieving a greater understanding of comets. Their surface properties appear to be quite different than was previously thought.’
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