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Scientists confirmed that the European comet lander Philae had ‘sniffed’ organic molecules on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko containing carbon elements, a basis of life on Earth, before its primary battery ran out and it shut down.
Philae landed on the comet after a 10-year journey through space aboard the Rosetta spacecraft on a mission to unlock details about how planets and maybe even how life evolved.
It wrapped up its 57-hour mission on the comet’s surface on Saturday after radioing back data from a series of experiments as its battery ran out.
The Cometary Sampling and Composition (COSAC) gas analysing instrument on Philae was able to ‘sniff’ the atmosphere and detect the first organic molecules after landing, the DLR German Aerospace Center said.
The lander also drilled into the comet’s surface in its hunt for organic molecules, although it is unclear as yet whether Philae managed to deliver a sample to COSAC for analysis.
Also onboard the lander was the Multi purpose Sensors for Surface and Subsurface Science (MUPUS) tool to measure the density and thermal and mechanical properties of the comet’s surface. It showed the comet’s surface was not as soft as previously believed.
A thermal sensor was supposed to be hammered around 40 cm into the surface but this did not occur, despite the hammer setting being cranked up to its highest level.
The DLR reckons that after passing through a 10-20 cm thick layer of dust, the sensor hit a layer of material estimated to be as hard as ice.
“It’s a surprise. We didn’t expect such hard ice on the ground,” Tilman Spohn, who leads the MUPUS team at the DLR, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Dr. Spohn said MUPUS could be used again if enough sunlight gets through to reload Philae’s batteries, which the scientists hope may happen as the comet approaches the sun.
From : The Hindu