Philae detects organic molecules on comet
The data were collected by the Philae lander's COSAC instrument and beamed back just before the lander went into hibernation.
It is unclear how complex the carbon- and hydrogen-based molecules are, but it could be evidence to support the theory – one the mission is designed to test – that life on Earth may have been seeded by comets.
“Cosac was able to ‘sniff’ the atmosphere and detect the first organic molecules after landing. Analysis of the spectra and the identification of the molecules are continuing," the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), which built the Cosac instrument, said in a statement.
The lander, however, appears to have failed to drill into the comet's surface. The thermal and mechanical MUPUS probe, one of Philae's 10 onboard instruments, discovered the comet was "a tough nut to crack", the DLR said.
"Although the power of the hammer was gradually increased, we were not able to go deep into the surface," research team leader Tilman Spohn said.
Acoustic experiments appear to suggest that the comet, beneath a surface layer of dust, is hard water ice.
Scientists also want to test the hypothesis that water was freighted to Earth by comets.