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Current Affairs

Essential element for life on Earth found on comet

Date: 07 December 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

A new study using data from the ESA's Rosetta mission shows that the comet contains the life-critical element phosphorous.

 

Background

From long time there are many deliberations regarding start of life on Earth. The new discovery tries to answer the question.

 

Details

  • The raw elements for life are known as CHNOPS, which stands for Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorous, and Sulphur.

  • Combinations of these six chemical elements make up the large majority of biological molecules on Earth. Together, they account for almost 98 percent of Earth's living matter. 

  • Scientists had previously found the other five in comets, so finding phosphorous might be the final piece of this puzzle.

  • The team of researchers found the phosphorous and fluorine in the inner coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

  • They were present in solid particles collected only a few kilometres from the comet by Rosetta's COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser (COSIMA) instrument.

  • The particles were collected on the instrument's target plates, which were then photographed remotely. The individual particles were selected in the images and then measured with a mass spectrometer.

  • There was a lack of molecules containing soluble phosphorous on early Earth. Experiments have shown that soluble phosphorous could serve a critical role in the origin of biological molecules.

  • This study shows that, along with CHNO and S, P is now known to be present in comets, and those comets could have delivered P to early Earth.

 

Comets

A comet is an icy, small Solar System body that, when passing close to the Sun, warms and begins to release gases, a process called outgassing. This produces a visible atmosphere or coma, and sometimes also a tail.