The Courier-Mail

Comet may shed light on origins

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PARIS: A comet streaking through space with a European robot lab riding piggyback will skirt the sun this week, setting another landmark in an extraordin­ary quest to unravel the origins of life on Earth.

Scientists hope the heat of perihelion – when the comet comes closest to the sun – will cause it to shed more of its icy crust, including pristine particles left from the solar system’s birth 4.6 billion years ago.

If this does happen, Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft will be orbiting nearby, ready to pounce on clues about how our star system came into being.

“This is the time most of the action happens,” European Space Agency expert Mark McCaughrea­n said of the weeks-long peak of activity.

This is “the greatest opportunit­y to catch material and analyse it if you’re looking for rare species of molecules”, especially organic ones.

Comet 67P/ChuryumovG­erasimenko will reach its closest point to our star – some 186 million kilometres – on Thursday.

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