Philae Uncovers Startling Comet Secret

Philae, part of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, has failed to detect something while working on the Comet 67/P. That something is a magnetic field.

The finding was published in the journal Science and has astrophysics looking over previously held theories about how not just smaller things like asteroids and comets came together, but how this finding will change how we conceive of the creation of the Solar System.

“If Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is representative of all cometary nuclei, then we suggest that magnetic forces are unlikely to have played a role in the accumulation of planetary building blocks greater than one metre (3.25 feet) in size,” said lead author Hans-Ulrich Auster of the Technische Universität Braunschweig.

The data was taken by Philae during an initial landing on the comet back in November. The space probe had a problematic landing – bouncing off the surface multiple times before settling in a less than optimal location. Turns out all that moving around has benefited scientists here on Earth, as Philae’s Magnetometer and Plasma Monitor were then working. After initially sending data the probe failed to acquire enough sunlight to keep up operations and is now in a low-energy safe mode until it can grab more juice.

So what does this all mean for science? One of the biggest attractions of the new find is comparing how comets were initially believed to have formed and what the data now shows. As a solar system is just a collection of cosmic dust and gas in the beginning, there needs to be some kind of force to bind everything together. It was thought that magnetism played a large role in this process, but now researchers are not as clear. As a body becomes more massive, gravity will eventually take over to maintain stability. Magnetisms’ role was seen as crucial at the beginning, on a tiny scale.

The Rosetta Mission has been notable for being the first soft landing on a comet and the first to get as far as Jupiter using solar cells. The spacecraft was launched on March 2nd, 2004 and took a decade of travel to reach Comet 67/P. It main purpose is an in-depth study of the composition of the comet, along with flybys of Mars.

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