Scientists are analyzing data from last year’s Philae comet landing, and they recently discovered something extraordinary. Open University professor Ian Wright and colleagues studied the gaseous cloud surrounding the comet – the coma – and discovered that it contains the “building blocks of life.” Water vapor, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide were all detected, and the scientific community is buzzing about the larger implications.
The European Space Agency landed the Philae probe back in November, 2014, and the information streaming back to Earth is proving to be quite interesting. A number of researchers have been evaluating data collected from the comet’s surface, including Fred Goesmann, whose team discovered 16 different organic compounds in the molecules 10 km above the surface. Four of these compounds, methyl isocyanate, acetone, propionaldehyde, and acetamide, have yet to be found on a comet.
So, what does this mean? It turns out all of the compounds discovered could be produced abiologically, or through interactions between ice and UV or cosmic radiation. So, this might not mean the compounds originated from a planet containing life forms. Yet, Goesmann is holding firm that the discovery lends credence to the theory of panspermia, or that life may have originated from organic compounds held as cargo on a wayward comet. These compounds are said to have been the “building blocks” for sugars, amino acids, and bases for DNA proteins. More research and more exploration will tell, in time, yet we may be closer than ever to understanding the reaches of biological life forms throughout space.