Philae is in a deep slumber right now, but it’s data collected during its 3 days on the comet are being sifted through by scientists.
Today, scientists can confirm the Philae lander detected organic molecules containing carbon on the comet. Does this include complex compounds that make up proteins? The scientists still aren’t sure.
The Philae lander used its COSAC gas analyzing instrument to ‘sniff’ the atmosphere for organic molecules and did detect them.
Philae also drilled into the comet, but it doesn’t appear Philae was able to deliver the sample before it ran out of battery power.
Another tool Philae used on comet 67P was the MUPUS (Multi-Purpose Sensors for Subsurface Science instrument package). The MUPUS recorded a temperature of -153 degrees Celsius (-243 degrees Fahrenheit) at Philae’s final landing spot. The temperature then fell another 10 degrees Celsius during the next half hour.
“We think this is either due to radiative transfer of heat to the cold nearby wall seen in the CIVA images or because the probe had been pushed into a cold dust pile,” says Jörg Knollenberg, instrument scientist for MUPUS at DLR.
Then, the probe tried to hammer into the surface of the comet. But, it quickly hit a wall. After just a few millimeters, it couldn’t go any further even at the strongest setting.
What did Philae run into? “If we compare the data with laboratory measurements, we think that the probe encountered a hard surface with strength comparable to that of solid ice,” says Tilman Spohn, principal investigator for MUPUS.
The MUPUS team believe Philae sits on a layer of dust about 10-20 cm thick with strong ice or some kind of ice/dust mixture below that.
Interpretation of the data is still in its early stages. Scientists will continue to pour over all the data points and will release their findings at a later date.
It’ll be interesting to see how complex those organic molecules are.