To scientists’ surprise, Rosetta probe data suggests there is oxygen on comet 67P. The news challenges past theories about our solar system and its early chemistry.
Scientists told reporters that the oxygen in comet 67P must have been present before or at the time our solar system was created.
But before the discovery scientists were absolutely sure that there was no oxygen on comets like 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a space rock that was intensively probed by an orbiting European spacecraft. Yet, Rosetta showed that oxygen does exist in the comet’s halo of gases.
Kathrin Altwegg, co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Bern in Switzerland, admitted that neither she nor her colleagues would have ever dreamed about finding molecular oxygen so perfectly preserved “for billions of years.”
Altwegg added that the discovery would certainly ‘discredit’ current theories on our solar system formation. Comet 67P was closely tracked by the European Space Agency’ robotic space lab. The mission’s main goal is to learn more about early Universe.
When they first learned that there is oxygen on Comet 67, scientists wanted to test whether the molecules were genuinely embedded into the comet’s icy body or were gathered from some other place.
To solve the mystery, researchers measured the oxygen to water ratio on the comet as the space rock was getting closer to the Sun and started to release more gas from underneath its crust. If the oxygen was not a native gas, solar winds would have blasted it away while they were peeling off the comet’s outer layers.
But that didn’t happen, which suggests that oxygen has always been there. Some theories speculated that the solar system formed through violent collisions of matter, but frozen oxygen could not have escaped intact the collisions.
Yet oxygen was found with other occasions beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists found it on Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons, as well. But the molecule may exist in other places, too, since our planet’s telescopes are not very good at detecting it.
The news that Rosetta probe data suggests there is oxygen on comet 67P may suggest one more thing –that water on comets is not an exception and we should expect to find more on other comets.
Yet, some scientists not involved in Rosetta mission said that the findings were significant, but we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions. If the findings are confirmed, previous theories on the ‘formation’ of our Solar System would be affected by “a severe constraint,” researchers noted.
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