Scientists have discovered phosphorus and fluorine in particulate dust collected from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This discovery indicates that all of the most important elements needed for life could have been delivered to Earth using comets.
Scientists from the University of Turku, Finland, have discovered phosphorus and fluorine in particulate dust collected from the inner coma of space object 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This comet orbits the Sun in 6.5 years.
Dust particles were collected using a COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyzer (COSIMA). The instrument was carried aboard the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft. The mission tracked the comet over a distance of several kilometers between September 2014 and September 2016. The COSIMA instrument collected dust particles in the vicinity of the comet. The particles were photographed and measured with a mass spectrometer. All steps were monitored from Earth.
This is the first time that CHNOPS elements necessary for life have been found in solid cometary matter.
The acronym CHNOPS stands for Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur. These are six of the most important chemical elements whose covalent combinations make up most biological molecules on Earth.
Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur have been reported in previous studies by the COSIMA team. The discovery of these phosphorus and fluorine confirms the comet theory, according to which these objects delivered vital elements to the still young Earth.