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Thursday, October 29, 2015

‘Comatose’ comet ‘tanked up’ with oxygen

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko   (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)
Nine (make that 9.999999999) out of ten times, hearing the words “coma” and “oxygen” in the same sentence evokes images of hospital beds.

Not so this time.  Jen Pinkowski of Mental Floss reports that scientists have discovered plenty of oxygen within the coma (“cloud of gas”) surrounding comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. 

This oxygen, along with other familiar gases such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, has been “pouring from the comet’s nucleus.”

These gases have been detected by “instruments aboard the Rosetta spacecraft, which orbits the comet.”  Rosetta had formerly deployed the Philae probe to land on the comet’s surface.

The presence of molecular oxygen “relative to water” within the comet’s “icy grains” was a surprise to many who had presupposed that highly-reactive oxygen could not survive for billions of years “without combining with other substances.”

Scientists may now have to rethink the idea that “the combination of methane and O2” hints at the presence of life.  This combination exists on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but thus far no life has been found there.  


Copyright October 29, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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