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Comet 67P may harbor abundance of alien life: Scientists

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Mosaic of four images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera on 19 September 2014 at 28.6 km from the center of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

Scientists say data by comet lander Philae suggest 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko could harbor an abundance of alien microbial life.

Astrobiologist Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and Max Wallis of the University of Cardiff announced their radical theories at a Royal Astronomical Society meeting in Wales on Monday.

According to the two, icy black crust, flat-bottomed craters, and large boulders on the surface of the comet “are all consistent with a mixture of ice and organic material that consolidate under the sun's warming during the comet's orbiting in space, when active micro-organisms can be supported."

"Rosetta has already shown that the comet is not to be seen as a deep-frozen inactive body, but supports geological processes and could be more hospitable to micro-life than our Arctic and Antarctic regions," said Wallis.

Using antifreeze salts, certain types of "extremophiles" are capable of surviving in extremely low temperatures, such as those on the comet, the researchers said.

Traces of abundant complex organic molecules have also been detected by Philae and its orbiter Rosetta, the researchers cited as further evidence of life. 

"What we're saying is that data coming from the comet seems to unequivocally, in my opinion, point to micro-organisms being involved in the formation of the icy structures, the preponderance of aromatic hydrocarbons, and the very dark surface,” said Wickramasinghe.

An artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae (front view) on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (ESA/ATG)

The researchers’ claims have been met with skepticism by comet experts.

“No scientist active in any of the Rosetta instrument science teams assumes the presence of living micro-organisms beneath the cometary surface crust,” the Guardian quoted Uwe Meierhenrich, a co-investigator on Philae’s COSAC instrument, as saying. COSAC is a German-built instrument installed on the lander to "sniff" 67P’s thin atmosphere.

On November 12, the Philae probe made history by landing on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after being released from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft.


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