Rosetta mission detects biological building blocks on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 94 Issue 22 | p. 10 | Concentrates
Issue Date: May 30, 2016

Rosetta mission detects biological building blocks on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Discovery of glycine and phosphorus advances theory that comets could have played a role in seeding life on Earth
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Analytical SCENE, Biological SCENE, Organic SCENE
Keywords: astrochemistry, comet, origin of life, glycine, Rosetta
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Researchers have measured glycine on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, adding support to the idea that comets could have helped kick-start life on Earth.
Credit: ESA
Image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
 
Researchers have measured glycine on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, adding support to the idea that comets could have helped kick-start life on Earth.
Credit: ESA

Data from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission reveal that the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is home to glycine and phosphorus, two biological building blocks important for the origin of life. The work follows the prior discovery of organic molecules on 67P, including methyl isocyanate, acetone, propanal, and acetamide. In total, the findings support the theory that comet impacts may have played a crucial role in seeding life on our planet, notes the University of Bern’s Kathrin Altwegg, who led the research team (Sci. Adv. 2016, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600285). Glycine was detected on several occasions by a mass spectrometer called ROSINA on the Rosetta probe as it orbited and approached the comet for landing in 2014. The team believes the measured glycine was released from dust grains in 67P’s coma, the hazy envelope that surrounds a comet. Although glycine was previously found in a sample taken from the Wild 2 comet, that sample had some contamination issues, leaving glycine’s cometary origin to be inferred by carbon isotope ratios. With 67P, Rosetta measured the amino acid’s presence at the comet directly, avoiding possible contamination issues back on Earth.

 
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