Researchers have officially discovered oxygen on comet 67P, but the discovery has serious implications for the search for extraterrestrial life.
We reported earlier that scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission have officially discovered evidence of the presence of oxygen on comet 67P. Oxygen is one of the essential building blocks for life to exist, but the finding may force researchers to look elsewhere for extraterrestrial activity. According to a report from Discovery News, oxygen on 67P all but confirms that the comet is in fact lifeless.
Finding oxygen on the comet excited researchers hoping to find evidence of complex organisms somewhere other than Earth, but it was only when they examined where the oxygen was coming from that they realized it was not a possibility. The oxygen emanates from the core of the comet, eliminating the possibility that life processes produced it as a byproduct. The comet was formed billions of years ago, and the oxygen was trapped inside from the gas cloud that shrouded the solar system as the sun was born.
Molecular oxygen present on a comet is still an amazing find. Researchers have been scouring the universe for decades searching for oxygen in star-forming clouds, but their efforts have proven unsuccessful to this point. If stars are forming without oxygen, it eliminates the possibility that the gas could migrate to planets and become incorporated with processes that eventually lead to the evolution of organisms.
Oxygen reacts with just about anything, which is why the discovery of the gas on 67P is so perplexing. The discovery suggests that there must have been something unique about our solar system as it formed billions of years ago.
Researchers have theorized for years that the ingredients necessary to spawn life on Earth fell to the planet on a speeding comet. If a similar comet to 67P smashed into Earth and released a store of molecular oxygen, it very well could have been responsible for kick starting the processes that ultimately led to the formation of life.
Despite the fact that 67P is not actually a extraterrestrial nursery cruising the solar system, the discovery of oxygen inside its core is still an important development. A press release from the European Space Agency outlining the details of the discovery can be found here.