Oxygen on comet 67P might not be ancient after all | Science News

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Oxygen on comet 67P might not be ancient after all

Newly discovered chemical reaction could generate the gas instead, study suggests

By
12:28pm, May 8, 2017
comet 67P

OLD OR NEW? Molecular oxygen detected around comet 67P, shown here, may not be a relic of the solar system’s birth. Instead, it may be generated by interactions of water, the solar wind and sand on the comet’s surface.

Oxygen on comets might not date all the way back to the birth of the solar system.

Instead, interactions between water, particles streaming from the sun and grains of sand or rust on the comet’s surface could generate the gas. Those interactions could explain the surprising abundance of O2 detected in the fuzzy envelope of gas around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2015 (SN: 11/28/15, p. 6), researchers report May 8 in Nature Communications. Such reactions might also reveal how oxygen forms in other regions of space.

“Molecular oxygen is very hard to find out there in the universe,” says Caltech chemical engineer Konstantinos Giapis. When the Rosetta spacecraft detected oxygen around comet 67P, astronomers argued it must be primordial, trapped in water ice as the comet formed roughly 4.6

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