Thursday 29 September 2016

Philae may be sitting on comet teeming with alien life

John von Radowitz

Published 07/07/2015 | 02:30

Philae made history last November after detaching from its Rosetta mothership and bouncing down on to the surface of the comet.
Philae made history last November after detaching from its Rosetta mothership and bouncing down on to the surface of the comet.

Comet lander Philae may be sitting on an object teeming with alien microbial life, according to two leading astronomers.

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Distinct features of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, such as its organic-rich black crust, are best explained by the presence of living organisms beneath an icy surface, they claim. Rosetta, the European space craft orbiting the comet, is also said to have picked up strange "clusters" of organic material that look suspiciously like viral particles.

But neither Rosetta nor its lander are equipped to search for direct evidence of life after a proposal to include this in the mission was allegedly laughed out of court.

Astronomer and astrobiologist Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, who was involved in the mission planning 15 years ago, said: "I wanted to include a very inexpensive life-detection experiment. At the time it was thought this was a bizarre proposition."

He and colleague Dr Max Wallis, from the University of Cardiff, believe 67P and other comets like it could provide homes for living microbes similar to the 'extremophiles' that inhabit the most inhospitable regions of the Earth.

Comets may have helped to sow the seeds of life on Earth and possibly other planets such as Mars early in the life of the solar system, they argue.

The astronomers presented their case for life on 67P at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

Philae made history last November after detaching from its Rosetta mothership and bouncing down on to the surface of the comet.

Irish Independent

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