What Did Scientists Discover By Landing On A Comet?

by | Feb 28, 2017 | Cool Stuff

In 2004, the European Space Agency launched its Rosetta spacecraft into space. The purpose of the mission? Travel through space and orbit a comet to gather as much information as possible. After traveling through space for a decade, Rosetta finally reached its destination, Comet 67P, and began orbiting the comet.

Before Rosetta’s mission ended, scientists wanted to gather as much data on the comet as possible, so as the power of the craft started fading, the scientists purposefully crashed it into the surface of the comet. Before Rosetta completely died, it sent as much data back toward Earth as possible. Thanks to this final effort and Rosetta’s time in orbit we’ve learned a great deal about Comet 67P and the role that comets may have played in the formation of our own world.

Rosetta discovered Comet 67P is not magnetized.

Some theories about how planets formed exist on the sole notion that magnetic forces pulled cometary materials together. The fact that Comet 67P didn’t show any signs of magnetism suggests that this theory isn’t correct. Using magnetometers, instruments used to measure magnetic fields, on Rosetta and its comet lander scientists discovered there was no magnetic pull from Comet 67P.

Comet 67P revealed carbon-containing organic molecules.

What are carbon-containing organic molecules? Essentially, they are the building blocks to living things on Earth. Some of the molecules discovered have actually never been found on comets before. Scientists now want to know if the molecules that started life on Earth could have been brought here by a comet. The discovery gives hope and sheds some light on the subject, but further research and study of comets will need to conducted to find out for sure.

Comet 67P contains water different from that found on Earth.

As Rosetta orbited the comet it discovered that most of the gas coming from the comet is actually water vapor. However, the water contains more deuterium, a heavy form of hydrogen, than the water found on Earth. Scientists once theorized that the water on Earth actually came from comets smashing into the planet, but Rosetta’s discovery paints a different, more complex picture about how water on Earth came to be here.

Comet 67P revealed just how the surface of a comet changes.

As Comet 67P traveled closer to the Sun, scientists were able to get a rare glimpse into cometary activity. Through high-resolution images, scientists saw jets of gas and dust being ejected as sinkholes and cliffs collapsed. Not only did this show the comet’s ice turning into gas as the particles left the comet’s atmosphere, but it revealed how the surface of Comet 67P is constantly changing.

Even today, scientists are still discovering new and amazing things about our solar system and about space in general. StratoStar can help your classroom discover something amazing, as well! Our team will help you craft curriculum around high-altitude science and weather balloons. Students will be excited to design an experiment and launch it into space!

If you’re ready to get students excited about learning, contact StratoStar today!

Looking for more great content? Check out this post about alien bacteria found in space!