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Rosetta's Recent 'Comet Oxygen' Discovery Trumps Previous Finds

Update Date: Oct 29, 2015 03:41 PM EDT

Orbiting the Comet 67 P as it zooms through the solar system, Rosetta has shed light on many unknowns. Its recent discovery of oxygen on the comet may eclipse all other mission accomplishments.

According to The Washington Post, Rosetta's find marks the first discovery of molecular oxygen has on a comet. Oxygen (O2) is hard to track as it readily breaks down to bond with other elements. Researchers found oxygen along with expected gases including oxides of carbon, water vapor and hydrogen.

"Rosetta has made the first detection of molecular oxygen at a comet. The results presented in this graphic are based on data collected by the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis Double-Focusing Mass Spectrometer (ROSINA-DFMS) between September 2014 and March 2015 when Rosetta was still on the approach to the Sun along its orbit," ESA said on its website.

The relatively substantial quantity of oxygen found on the comet has researchers wondering if the comet's oxygen is primordial in origin. Researchers also found that consistent ration of oxygen to water vapor on the comet as it makes its way around the sun is a strong indication that oxygen was around since the comet's formation.

"The overall consistent level implies that O2 is not produced today by solar wind or UV interaction with surface ices, otherwise it would rapidly decrease due to the comet's increased activity. Instead the O2 must have been incorporated into the comet's ices during its formation in the early Solar System, and is being released with the water vapor today," they said.

Oxygen is now known to have predated formation of the solar system. Studying comets and their chemical composition provides researchers rare opportunities to study the antecedents of the solar system.

The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature.

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