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article imagePhilae finds organic matter on comet

By Tim Sandle     Dec 6, 2014 in Science
Philae, the sophisticated comet lander, only maintained active life for a few days. However, it has confirmed what many had suspected: organic molecules are present on the surface of the comet.
The comet lander Philae has sent back a vast range of scientific data. After making a 10-year journey to the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P), its data collection phase lasted just 64 hours. Philae has given scientists 90 percent of what they had hoped for.
Philae is a robotic European Space Agency lander that accompanied the Rosetta spacecraft. The lander is named after the Philae obelisk bearing a bilingual inscription used along with the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.
On board the lander are 10 instruments to measure the magnetic field, chemical composition, visual landscape, and other characteristics of the comet. According to Nature News, scientists have found that 67P is made of water-ice beneath a thin layer of dust, and that it contains organic molecules—although which ones have not been disclosed. Such a find is important, given that scientists speculate that comets—the debris from the formation of the Solar System—may hold information about the origin of life.
Andrea Accomazzo, the flight director of Rosetta, the craft that delivered Philae to the comet, told New Scientist. “Mankind had an outpost on the surface of a comet working for three days. A few things didn’t work exactly as we wished, but we knew that the risk was tremendous.”
The most interesting findings will be, if on subsequent analysis, specific organic molecules, like amino acids (the building block of proteins) are found.
Philae is now hibernating as its batteries have expired. The lander plopped down in a shady spot on the comet, keeping its solar panels in the dark. The lander could be reactivated as the comet zooms closer to the sun, although this is not certain.
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