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article imageFirst discoveries from Philae comet lander released

By Caroline Leopold     Jul 30, 2015 in Science
The first wave of data from comet lander Philae came out on Thursday, revealing a trove of new information about the comet's composition.
Rosetta is the first mission ever designed to orbit and land on a comet and the studies of the comet's surface have yielded its first insights.
The Philae comet lander, equipped with scientific instruments, has been conducting a detailed study of Comet 67P/Churyumov­-Gerasimenko.
"Last November we landed on this comet — a completely new world unlike anything humans have ever seen, and so much more different than we expected or could expect" mission head Stephan Ulamec of the German Aerospace Center told Popular Mechanics. He said, "We've discovered that the surface of the comet is quite complex and variable, with a few structures that remind one of Mars, and that there is a high content of organic material."
The early findings have been published in seven papers in a special edition of Science.
This well-lit image was acquired by Philae’s CIVA camera 4 at the final landing site Abydos  on th...
This well-lit image was acquired by Philae’s CIVA camera 4 at the final landing site Abydos, on the small lobe of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, on 13 November 2014. The image shows one of the CONSERT antennas in the foreground, which seems to be in contact with the nucleus. The dimensions of the antenna, 5 mm in diameter and 693 mm long, help to provide a scale to the image. The pebble-like features, blocks and cliffs observed in the CIVA images corresponds to what has been seen at larger
One unexpected discovery is that the comet has more organic material than originally predicted. The Philae used two different chemical-sensing instruments to study the chemical makeup of the C-G comet. Both instruments came to the same conclusion, that the comet had more carbon-based materials than expected.
Planetary scientist Fred Goesmann, who was behind a study using Philae's mass spectrometer (called COSAC) said that four new organic compounds never found on comets were discovered. Those compounds are methyl isocyanate, acetone, propionaldehyde, and acetamide. Another 12 known compounds were found.
Goesmann said knowing the comet's composition is important to understand the origins of the solar system and of Earth. "You can think of comets, because they were formed long ago in the outer solar system, as ... a sort of time capsule of knowledge."
The European Space Agency explained in an update on the mission webpage that the published data were obtained during the lander’s seven-hour descent to its first touchdown at the Agilkia landing site.
Philae had bounced on its first landing, so the the lander had gotten some extra measurements. Then, the lander touched down at Abydos.
More about Philae comet lander, comet 67p, European space agency
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