Comet 67P Chemicals Could Reveal Its Origins

Overlooks from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft are bringing light on the strange make-up Comet 67P, also known as Chuuryumov-Gerasimenko. The findings show a combination of substances believed to be vital precursors to life, such as a specific type of hydrocarbons and salts of ammonium.

Those recent insights indicate the comet gathered this mate-rial from the presolar mist where the Solar System developed 4.6 billion years ago. Comets are known to possess a nucleus made of dust and ice, from which matter suppresses when heated by the sunlight to create a gaseous enveloping “coma.”

Those comas have a combination of molecules that extensively meet theoretical forecasts. There is, however, one notable exception, the nitrogen gas. The substance is usually present in fewer quantities than anticipated.

Comet 67P is Under Close Observation

As the recent study resurfaces, we learn from Kathrin Altwegg from the University of Bern that: “Using ROSINA observations of Comet 67P, we discovered that this ‘missing’ nitrogen may, in fact, be tied up in ammonium salts that are difficult to detect in space.”

The molecule which compresses one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms are known as ammonia. It is also one of the transporters of volatile nitrogen and easily mixes with different acids discovered in both cometary ice and the space between stars to develop salts. Also, those ammonium salts are believed to be the beginning place for other advanced compounds, such as glycine, or urea.

Kathrin added: “Finding ammonium salts on the comet is hugely exciting from an astrobiology perspective.” Kathrin and her team utilized ROSINA details collected during the last step of the mission, from when Rosetta was operating nearby flyovers of the comet back in September 2016. That information was somewhat helpful because Rosetta tried to get closer to Comet 67P than ever before, grasping the only 1.9km above the comet’s surface.

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