Home Front Page They should’ve put those life-detecting instruments on Rosetta; evidence is convincing

They should’ve put those life-detecting instruments on Rosetta; evidence is convincing

15 years ago, professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, suggested that it might be a good idea to put a simple and cheap complimentary instrument on the Rosetta Spacecraft, for the sake of being able to detect life forms on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

“Haha”, the other scientists replied; “how could there possibly be life on such a thing as a comet?”. So they didn’t add the extra instrument. And now, Rosetta sits on the comet surface with loud and clear evidence that there could be lots of microbial activity going on out there, and with no possibility to determine this for a fact.

The black crust and icy lakes suggest that the environment could be inhabited by extremophiles, lifeforms that can survive under extreme conditions, such as -40 degrees Celsius. And the likelihood that microorganisms are behind the build-up of certain parts of the comet is very high, according to Wickramasinghe: “These are not easily explained in terms of prebiotic chemistry. The dark material is being constantly replenished as it is boiled off by heat from the sun. Something must be doing that at a fairly prolific rate.”

It still seems to be an idea struggling to be accepted as a possibility, this notion of life outside of our own planet and atmosphere. However, after this unexpected finding, some researchers could perhaps be more willing to at least not exclude the practical means to completely dismiss such evidence scientifically, in favor of their believes.

The European Space Agency, ESA, has still managed to pull off what no one else before them has been capable of doing, and that is to put both an orbiter and a landing probe on the surface of a comet as it approaches its closest point to the sun in its orbit. And the probe Philae actually did manage to detect organic, carbon-based molecules before suddenly shutting down shortly after landing on the comet surface.

Image: ESA