Philae Lander Discovered Organic Compound On Comet Before Running Out of Power

Scientists from the European Space Agency announced in a blog post this past weekend that the Rosetta Mission’s Philae lander had gone into a deep sleep after depleting its battery reserves.

Philae was initially designed to recharge its batteries using solar panels, but one of its harpoons failed during the landing last week, causing Philae to take two bounces – it ended up about a kilometer away from the planned landing zone.

As a result, the lander only got about 1.5 hours of daily sunlight, instead of the seven hours/day the scientists were expecting. Still, Philae was able to gather a vast wealth of data during the 60 hours it spent online.

“Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence. This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered,”

said Philae’s landing manager Stephan Ulamec in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

The Philae lander took a solid bounce after hitting its landing target, ending up about 1 kilometer away from  it (Image Credit: ESA/Ian O'Neill)

The Philae lander took a solid bounce after hitting its landing target “Agilkia”, ending up about 1 kilometer away (Image Credit: ESA/Ian O’Neill)

The lander made a number of impressive observations before going into deep sleep, but one finding has certainly stood out from the rest: the discovery of an organic compound containing carbon, the basis of all life on Earth.

ESA scientists are currently carrying out further research to see if the comet contains complex compounds like amino acids or more basic compounds like methane and methanol (often considered the basic building blocks of proteins).

While the basic science of evolution and natural selection has been pretty much accepted throughout the scientific community, the question of how the very first life even came about is still a matter of speculation and debate.

One popular theory is that the first organic compounds were actually delivered to Earth on a comet – Philae’s recent findings may end up adding some credibility to that hypothesis. According to Ulamec, further research into Philae’s data will,

“…help us to understand whether organic molecules were brought by comets to the early earth.”

Read the original report from the IB Times.


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