Comet landing: The Philae has found traces of organic molecules on the surface of the comet 67P. The scientists report that the initial sample data from the robot probe also found that the surface was much harder than imagined.
The lander control centre in Cologne, operated by German Aerospace Center (DLR), say Philae has uncovered much about the comet in spite of a rough touchdown in a less-than-perfect spot.
“We are well on our way to achieving a greater understanding of comets,” says project scientific director Ekkehard Kuhrt.
“Their surface properties appear to be quite different than was previously thought.”
The DLR said the MUPUS probe – one of Philae’s 10 onboard science instruments – hammered into the comet to discover it was “a tough nut to crack”.
Electric and acoustic experiments confirm the comet was “not nearly as soft and fluffy as it was believed to be” underneath a surface layer of dust.
Despite its imperfect footing, Philae managed to deploy a drill, but it’s not clear whether any soil sample has been examined onboard.
Yet the team say Philae’s COSAC gas analyser managed to “‘sniff’ the atmosphere and detect the first organic molecules” shortly after landing.
Some astrophysicists theorise that comets “seeded” our fledgling planet with the beginnings of life-giving water and organic molecules, and hoped that analysis of 67P would prove this.
“Analysis of the spectra and the identification of the molecules are continuing,” the team says.
Philae fell asleep on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Saturday, having run out of onboard battery power after 60 hours of prodding and probing the surface.
Project manager Stephan Ulamec says he’s confident Philae would make contact later “and that we will be able to operate the instruments again” as the comet moves closer to the Sun.
It’s hoped that Philae will communicate with Rosetta again by May 2015 when “it might be possible that temperatures on the comet will allow Philae’s battery to be recharged.”
Rosetta will continue orbiting the comet to receive any signals from Philae, if it were to wake up from hibernation.