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Purdue Scientist Says Rosetta Mission Could Give Clues About The Origin Of The Universe

European Space Agency

The landing of a spacecraft on a comet could teach us much, including information on the origin of the universe according to a Purdue scientist who worked on a previous rendezvous with a comet.

The Rosetta mission was successfully completed Wednesday when its Philae spacecraft successfully detached from its host vehicle and landed on Comet 67-P as it rockets across the solar system. The spacecraft was launched by the European Space Agency 10 years ago and began orbiting the comet in August. The craft landed on the comet just in time for it to travel toward the sun.

"As comets get closer to the sun, the ice in them begins to evaporate, so the comet we expect is going to really turn on like a Christmas tree, and we‘ll learn a lot about what happens with comets as a result," said Jay Melosh, distinguished professor at Purdue‘s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Melosh worked on NASA‘s Deep Impact spacecraft that successfully collided with a comet in 2005. Comets contain material unlike anything found on the earth, and Melosh says scientists believe some comets could contain particles dating to the origin of the universe.

"What gases were present. We think a lot of water, for example, and carbon dioxide, the building blocks of the planets were sort of put in deep freeze for us (in the form of comets) and have been there for about four billion years," Melosh said, adding that questions about the earth‘s formation could also be answered. "We still don‘t know exactly where the oceans came from, for example. It‘s believed by many people that comets were perhaps a source, and we think we can learn that by information Rosetta will send back."