The Rosetta spacecraft finds life ingredients on comet 67P
The Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency has revealed the presence of glycine and phosphorous at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, two crucial elements for living organisms. This important discovery supports the hypothesis that Comets have brought life seeds to the Earth.
Ingredients regarded as crucial for the origin of life on Earth have been discovered at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which has been investigated by ESA’s (European Space Agency) Rosetta spacecraft for two years. The molecules detected include the amino acid glycine, which is commonly found in proteins, and phosphorous, a key component of DNA and cell membranes. The study has been published by an international team of researchers in the Science Advances journal.
“This is the first unambiguous detection of glycine at a comet,” says Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator of the ROSINA instrument that made the measurements, and lead author of the paper. “At the same time, we also detected certain other organic molecules that can be precursors to glycine, hinting at the possible ways in which it may have formed.”
Launched by ESA in 2004 and developed with the important contribution by Italian Space Agency (ASI), Rosetta has made a long journey in space with the purpose of investigating comets and retrace the origins of the Solar System. The new results collected show that comets could have had a crucial role in the origin of life as we know it.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the chemistry on early Earth and there is of course a huge evolutionary gap to fill between the delivery of these ingredients via cometary impacts and life taking hold," says co-author Hervé Cottin. "But the important point is that comets have not really changed in 4.5 billion years: they grant us direct access to some of the ingredients that likely ended up in the prebiotic soup that eventually resulted in the origin of life on Earth.”
"The multitude of organic molecules already identified by Rosetta, now joined by the exciting confirmation of fundamental ingredients like glycine and phosphorous, confirms our idea that comets have the potential to deliver key molecules for prebiotic chemistry," says Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist. "Demonstrating that comets are reservoirs of primitive material in the Solar System and vessels that could have transported these vital ingredients to Earth, is one of the key goals of the Rosetta mission, and we are delighted with this result."