The ROSINA instrument on Rosetta has been “sniffing” the environment of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the past couple of years, obtaining unprecedented measurements of the gases found in a comet's atmosphere. Besides the main component – water vapour – ROSINA detected a wide variety of chemical species, from simple atoms to increasingly complex molecules, including some ingredients that were crucial for the origin of life on Earth.
In a humorous take on this “cometary zoo”, Kathrin Altwegg, ROSINA principal investigator from University of Bern and an enthusiast of animals, tells us more about the variety of bizarre “creatures” they've found at the comet.
Let's start from the volatile species, our beautiful butterflies, including CO, CO2, nitrogen, and the unexpected oxygen.
Then, we found many carbon chains, from methane and ethane to long chains – propane, butane, pentane... up to heptane. These are our giraffes. In fact, we might have found even longer chains, but we are still working to find out the corresponding molecule.
We also found many elephants, with a round shape and large mass: the aromatic ring compounds, from benzene to naphthalene – which also suggests there are no moths at Comet 67P/C-G!
There are many alcoholic compounds in ...