The European Space Agency (ESA) conducted a 10-year mission called Rosetta, which as planned, came to an end on 30 September 2016. Results from the mission found that around 40% of 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s (known as Chury)  nucleus was made up of organic matter.

The nucleus of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko (“Chury”) as seen by the European Rosetta space probe. © ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Organic compounds are said to be the buildings block of life on Earth and include nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These molecules were created long before the formation of the Solar System and both scientists and astronomers alike are well aware of them.  Experts have also known for a long time, through careful analysis of stellar spectra, that there are also absorptions that take place at specific wavelengths called the diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs).

US astrophysicist Theodore Snow believes these DIBs that are attributed to organic molecules make up the largest known collection of organic matter in the whole of the Universe. Normally this organic material is found in equal proportions, but there are exceptions to that rule. Presolar nebulae are very dense clouds of matter where in the middle, DIB absorptions level out or drop. The reason for this is because the organic molecules responsible for DIBs are gathered there. These clumps of matter allow less radiation to be absorbed.

With the help of the Rosetta mission, we learned that these primitive nebulae end up forming into solar systems of their own. Experts also learned that comet nuclei form through the accretion of grains that gradually increase in size.  Small particles stick to larger grains and this keeps occurring until finally a comet nucleus is formed. It’s unlikely the organic molecules were destroyed, so instead they were incorporated into cometary nuclei molecules.

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