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Space & Astronomy

Rosetta discovers molecular oxygen on comet

By T.K. Randall
October 29, 2015 · Comment icon 7 comments

Comet 67P is still throwing up a lot of surprises. Image Credit: CC BY-3.0 DLR
The gas was unexpectedly discovered around comet 67P and has been hailed as a significant find.
Picked up by the spacecraft's ROSINA mass spectrometers, the presence of molecular oxygen around the comet came as something of a surprise to researchers because it is usually quick to react with other chemicals and therefore should not exist on its own in such significant quantities.

In total oxygen is thought to make up around 3.8% of the molecules swarming around the comet.
The mission scientists believe that the gas may be a remnant from the comet's formation several billion years ago after having become trapped inside small grains of ice and rock.

"This evidence of oxygen as an ancient substance will likely discredit some theoretical models of the formation of the Solar System," said project leader Professor Kathrin Altwegg.

The exact processes involved however remain something of a mystery and scientists admit that existing models will need to be revised to try and explain how this oxygen could still be there.

"We think this result is of interest beyond the cometary community because it forces us to rethink all of these models," said André Bieler, a physicist at the University of Michigan.

Source: | Comments (7)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by qxcontinuum 9 years ago
why not , oxygen is the third most common element in the universe ?
Comment icon #2 Posted by Frank Merton 9 years ago
why not , oxygen is the third most common element in the universe ? I would guess because oxygen is extremely reactive and hence naturally binds with other things, so molecular oxygen is only expected when there is something going on to steadily replenish it.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Merc14 9 years ago
why not , oxygen is the third most common element in the universe ? I posted two links, one to the LA Times and the other to ESA. The LA Times article is very well done and explains thing clearly and simply to layman such as you and I, the ESA article is much more in-depth but available so I have to ask, why did you not bother to read either one before commenting? PS, Fran, before you chastise me, this is an ongoing issue with QX so the question is relevant.
Comment icon #4 Posted by bubblykiss 9 years ago
Where there is oxygen there is rust. Someone should contact them about fixing their rust problem.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Nnicolette 9 years ago
I think this is an important find as far as panspermia goes. I always thought of comets like little spermies flying through space seeding life during thier rare collision with egg planets lol
Comment icon #6 Posted by third_eye 9 years ago
I must confess that that very thought has crossed my mind many a time ~
Comment icon #7 Posted by BeastieRunner 9 years ago
That's pretty cool.

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