Oxygen found on comet in Rosetta mission: 'Most surprising discovery ... so far'
SCIENTISTS from the Rosetta mission have found oxygen in the atmosphere of comet 6 7 P / C h u r y u m ov - Gerasimenko, a discovery that could change our understanding of how the solar system formed.
The molecular oxygen (O2) was detected by the ROSINA mass spectrometer, one of a suite of instruments aboard the Rosetta spacecraft that has been traveling with the comet since August 2014.
The revelation came as quite a shock.
"The first time we saw it, we all went a little bit into denial because molecular oxygen was really not expected to be found on a comet," said Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern in Switzerland, the project leader for ROSINA, the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis.
"It does not sound that spectacular, but it is actually the most surprising discovery we have made so far on 67P," she said of the comet, which is about to pass the orbit of Mars.
Molecular oxygen is common on Earth, but it is rarely seen elsewhere in the universe. In fact, astronomers have detected molecular oxygen outside the solar system only twice, and never on a comet.
Oxygen is highly reactive, meaning it likes to bond to other kinds of atoms. Therefore, it was previously thought that all the oxygen present at the dawn of the solar system would have combined with the abundant hydrogen present at the time to form H20, or water.
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