Astronomers claim evidence gathered from lander shows microbial life on comet

Philae’s botched landing in November may have brought a better-than-expected payoff for the European Space Agency.

This 2014 file photo shows the European Space Agency’s model of Rosetta lander Philae properly attached to comet 67P/Churymuov-Gerasimenko. Some researchers believe data delivered from Philae shows “unequivocal evidence” of microbial life on the comet. (AP file)

(MEDIA GENERAL) – A group of astronomers say there is “unequivocal” evidence of alien life on a comet being researched by Philae, a lander probe launched in the Rosetta mission by the European Space Agency in 2004.

The comet, labeled 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, has an organic-rich black crust and shows signs of living organisms beneath its icy surface, according to a report from Sky News.

Computer simulations from Philae suggest there are microbes inhabiting the comet’s water below the surface.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, an astronomer and astrobiologist who was involved in planning the Rosetta/Philae mission, told Sky News, “What we’re saying is that data coming from the comet seems to unequivocally, in my opinion, point to micro-organisms being involved in the formation of the icy structures, the preponderance of aromatic hydrocarbons, and the very dark surface. … These are not easily explained in terms of pre-biotic chemistry.”

According to Wickramasinghe, what researchers believe to be organic material continuously is being boiled off by heat from the sun while apparently regenerating itself.

“Something must be doing that at a fairly prolific rate,” he said.

Another organic discovery

Sky News also reports Rosetta, the spacecraft that launched Philae toward 67P in 2014, also has discovered clusters of organic particles in the gases surrounding the comet. Scientists say the particle clusters resemble viral clusters collected in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Wickramasinghe said the concept of finding alien life in the universe is a question of numbers.

“The current estimate for the number of extra-solar planets in the galaxy is 140 billion plus,” Wickramasinghe said. “Planets that can harbor life are really quite abundant in the (Milky Way) galaxy, and the next neighboring system to us is only spitting distance away. I think it’s inevitable that life is going to be a cosmic phenomenon.”

Philae’s rough landing

Philae first made contact with 67P on November 12, 2014, but had a rough landing. The probe did not attach properly to the comet’s surface and ended up landing in the shade. The solar-powered lander was forced into hibernation until it started “waking up” in June as the comet heads toward the sun.

The comet currently is approximately 176.7 million miles away from Earth and is travelling faster than 73,000 mph, according to Sky News.

Perhaps Wickramasinghe’s hypothesis of life on 67P may be proven true due to research from Philae, even though the lander wasn’t expected to last this long. Due to its tricky landing that forced Philae into hibernation, the lander has had a longer shelf life. According to the ESA’s Jean-Pierre Bibring, if Philae had landed properly, it likely would have been destroyed by high temperatures in March.

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