What scientists have just found on Comet 67P may change everything we understand about life on Earth.
Scientists have found something incredible on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimneko, and it’s a game-changer.
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has detected the amino acid glycine, which is used by living organisms to make proteins, according to an ESA statement.
The discovery of the building blocks for organic life on such a barren comet floating aimlessly through our galaxy is an incredible discovery that could explain how life developed on our own planet — or perhaps even raises the likelihood that life has evolved nearby.
Glycine had been detected indirectly in samples returned to Earth in 2006 from a different comet, but scientists were concerned about contamination and largely threw out the results.
But this finding proves that glycine can be found on comets, indicating it may be a common ingredient in all regions of the universe where planets have come into being.
In addition, scientists found another key element in living organisms: phosphorus. This is the first time phosphorus has been found on a comet.
A major hypothesis for how life on Earth formed billions of years ago was that comets and asteroids carrying organic molecules smashed into the Earth’s oceans.
“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 published in Science Advances today. “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.”
“We see a strong link between glycine and dust, suggesting that it is probably released perhaps with other volatiles from the icy mantles of the dust grains once they have warmed up in the coma,” she adds. “Glycine is the only amino acid that is known to be able to form without liquid water, and the fact we see it with the precursor molecules and dust suggests it is formed within interstellar icy dust grains or by the ultraviolet irradiation of ice, before becoming bound up and conserved in the comet for billions of years.”