European Comet orbiter Rosetta has detected solid carbonaceous matter in the ejected dust particles of Comet 67P. The analysis suggests that they are complex molecules carrying carbon.
This is a significant stride as in the past, organic materials detected on the comet's surface were gasses resulting from the sublimation of ices. This is the first time dust-analysing COSIMA (COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser) has detected the presence of solid carbon.
The details were revealed in an expert paper published in Nature.
"Our analysis reveals carbon in a far more complex form than expected," remarked co-author Hervé Cottin from the Université Paris Est Créteil et Université Paris Diderot in France.
He said it was so complex that they cannot give it a proper formula or a name. Rosetta's feat has come from its low speed orbiting Comet 67P/C-G making the catching of dust particles possible.
This is a breakthrough compared to the previous comet missions which were flying at high speeds that disrupted particles and made characterization very challenging.
Comets have been collecting material in the pristine state to observe the microstructure of dust particles. Already researchers have used the Micro-Imaging Dust Analysis System (MIDAS) at Rosetta to analyze the size, shape, texture and microstructure of cometary dust from comet 67P.
Giving a preliminary analysis, Cottin said that the solid organics are having a heavy mix of magnesium, aluminum, sodium, calcium, silicon and iron. All these elements were already reported by different probes.
The new samples are similar to the large macromolecular compounds seen in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites that crashed to Earth on many occasions.
What makes a difference is that Rosetta's sample has more hydrogen than found in meteorites. Meanwhile, Rosetta as a comet orbiter has fascinated many minds, unlike other space probes. The European Space Agency is reportedly planning to crash Rosetta it into comet 67P in a few weeks.
With barely a few weeks left for Rosetta to land on the comet, the two-year mission is adding more success stories by giving new facts.
Rosetta will finally land on 67P's surface on Sept. 30 and a reunification of the two spacecraft is on cards.
As a positive sign, the Philae lander of Rosetta has been found after a tumultuous touchdown on comet 67P in November 2014. The camera's lost component was found cranked up against a dark cliff on Sept. 5.
Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor remarked that the 'ground-truth' from Philae would now put science into proper context and more revelations are due.