The Philae Lander May Have Found the Origins of Life on Earth


The news: The European Space Agency's Philae probe has discovered organic molecules on Comet 67P/C-G, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The discovery is very exciting because organic compounds contain carbon, which is the most basic building block of life and could mean the potential for sustainable plant and animal life. 

However, the presence of organic molecules doesn't mean the 2.5-mile wide comet is teeming with aliens. An organic molecule is a life-form the same way bricks and a bag of cement are a house.

There's still reason for excitement: Finding organic materials on a comet could help determine the origins of life on Earth in our universe. Specifically, such discoveries could give weight to the panspermia theory, which argues life on planets didn't necessarily originate there but on comets, meteors and similar bodies throughout the cosmos. These bodies eventually collided with planets, giving them the necessary ingredients for life to flourish.

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While a 2011 NASA study suggested panspermia was a possibility, Philae's new findings add even more credence to it. Stephan Ulamec, a scientist at the German Aerospace Center, told the Wall Street Journal that further study of Comet 67P/C-G's organic compounds "will help us to understand whether organic molecules were brought by comets to the early Earth."

More good news:  Though one of the solar panels didn't get any light due to the botched landing, the ESA managed to reposition the Philae lander before it ran out of power. Once the comet gets closer to the sun in spring of next year, this solar panel will be able to soak up the rays and the craft will be operational again, at least for a few more hours. Who knows what it'll discover then?