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Philae Lander Discovers ‘Frozen Primordial Soup’ On Comet 67P

Carbon Compounds on Comet

The European Space Agency’s Philae lander has sent home a treasure trove of information after landing on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimneko 67P in November of 2014, including an array of carbon compounds which Ian Wright, lead scientist on the Ptolemy instrument, referred to as “a frozen primordial soup.”

The findings support theories in the scientific community that comets might have seeded early Earth with the ingredients for life.

The results of Philae’s findings are published in two papers, both featured in the journal Science, The Conversation reported. The papers were based on data from two different instruments on the lander. One paper is from the UK Ptolemy team and the other from the German-led Cometary Sampling and Composition (COSAC) team.

The COSAC team found at least 16 organic compounds, four of which were not known to exist on comets before this discovery.

The Ptolmey team discovered a string of relatively simple molecules forming a polymer of formaldehyde, known as polyoxymethylene.

“What we may be looking at here is our abiologicial ancestral material – this is stuff that went into the mix to produce life,” said Professor Ian Wright of the Open University and Ptolemy team.

I see this cometary material that we’re analyzing as frozen primordial soup. It’s the kind of stuff that if you had it, and warmed it up somehow, and put it in the right environment, with the right conditions, you may eventually get life forming out of it (…) What we may be looking at here is our abiological ancestral material – this is stuff that went into the mix to produce life (…) In many ways it’s quite a humbling thing to be working on, because this is life before life happened.

In March, scientists attributed Mercury’s dark surface to a steady dusting by passing comets.

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