The Philae lander could be sat on a comet full of alien life — and we wouldn’t know if it was, according to two scientists.
The organic-rich black crust of the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was likely caused by microorganisms living beneath an icy surface, The Guardian reported citing leading astronomers.
“These are not easily explained in terms of prebiotic chemistry. The dark material is being constantly replenished as it is boiled off by heat from the sun. Something must be doing that at a fairly prolific rate,” astronomer and astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe, who was involved in the mission planning of Philae 15 years ago, was quoted as saying.
He said that people should be more open to the possibility of alien life. The data coming from the comet seems to point to “micro-organisms being involved in the formation of the icy structures, the preponderance of aromatic hydrocarbons, and the very dark surface”, he added.
Rosetta, the ESA spacecraft orbiting the comet, is also said to have picked up strange clusters of organic material that resemble viral particles.
The European Space Agency successfully landed Philae on the comet in November. Since then, the lander has undergone a period of hibernation from which it awoke in June after its solar panels were recharged. Neither Rosetta nor Philae are equipped to search for direct evidence of life.
Wickramasinghe and colleague Max Wallis, from the University of Cardiff, believe 67P and other such comets could be homes for microbes similar to the “extremophiles” that inhabit the most inhospitable regions of the Earth, the daily reported.