nucleus of comet Churi/ESA By Rosetta’s Philae:
Organic molecules never previously observed in comets, a relatively varied structure on the surface but a fairly homogeneous interior, organic compounds forming agglomerates rather than being dispersed in the ice: these are just some of first results provided by Philae on the surface of comet Churi. These in situ findings, which contain a wealth of completely new information, reveal several differences in comparison with previous observations of comets and current models.
Twenty-five minutes after Philae’s initial contact with the cometary nucleus, COSAC (Cometary Sampling and Composition experiment) carried out a first chemical analysis in sniffing mode, that is, by examining particles that passively enter the instrument. These particles probably came from the cloud of dust raised by Philae’s first contact with the ground. Sixteen compounds were identified, divided into six classes of organic molecules (alcohols, carbonyls, amines, nitriles, amides and isocyanates). Of these, four were detected for the first time on a comet (methyl isocyanate, acetone, propionaldehyde and acetamide).
These particles are precursors of molecules important for life (sugars, amino acids, DNA bases, etc). However, the possible presence of these more complex compounds was not unambiguously confirmed in this first analysis. In addition, almost all the compounds detected are potential precursors, products, combinations or by-products of each other, which provides a glimpse of the chemical processes at work in a cometary nucleus, and even in the collapsing solar nebula in the very early Solar System. More.
See also: Origin of life theories at a glance
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