Surprise Rosetta: the comet emits molecular oxygen

Surprise Rosetta: the comet emits molecular oxygen

The comet studied by the European ship Rosette emits molecular oxygen, which in itself is an amazing discovery and will force scientists to reconsider the formation of the solar system in detail.

Scientists were expecting to determine the presence of a highly reactive gas, which would have long ago been released in combination with hydrogen, but they found molecular oxygen (abbreviated O2), constantly degassing from comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

"This is the most amazing discovery that we have made so far, working on 67P," said team scientist Rosette Catherine Altweg, part-time associate at the Institute of Physics and Center for Outer Space and Habitability at the University of Bern in Germany.

"At first, when we really saw it, it seems to me that we all could not believe our eyes, because ... before this oxygen could not be among the molecules that are supposedly in a state of cometary coma," said Altvegg. "Modeling such an experiment shows that the presence of molecular oxygen after reacting with hydrogen is impossible." This discovery can also introduce complications into the developing strategy of searching for signs of extraterrestrial life by scanning the atmospheres of distant planets for the presence of characteristic chemical elements. Molecular oxygen, as well as methane, is a key bio-proof of life on Earth.

"Exploring exoplanets, our goal, of course, is to detect bio-signatures to confirm life on the planet. And, as far as I know, until then the combination of methane and oxygen was a weighty assumption about the presence of life. On a comet where we have both methane and oxygen "There is no life. So, probably, this is not sufficient evidence," said Altwegg.

Scientists measured the amount of molecular oxygen coming from 67P for several months before their case was published in the general scientific journal Nature. They found that the level of oxygen in relation to water remained stable, despite the fact that solar heating made the comet more active. This was irrefutable proof that comet 67P molecular oxygen was much deeper than the surface envelope. “Oxygen should be evenly present throughout the facility. If it were only on the upper surface, we would notice a decrease in the oxygen-to-water ratio after some time,” said Andre Bieler, researcher at the Department of Atmosphere, Ocean and Science at the University of Michigan and scientist of the Rosetta project .

The realization of this fact led scientists to conclude that oxygen was present on the comet during the formation period, after the appearance of the Solar system about 4, 6 billion years ago.

"This indicates the accretion (construction process) of our solar system. Most likely, this is a very ancient material," said Bieler.

"Now the question is to find out how he got there and how he stayed there for such a long time," the scientist added.

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