back to article LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball

Scientists at the ESA claim that "organic" molecules - the so-called building blocks of life itself - have been found on the icy surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the sadly now defunct Philae lander probot. Dr Fred Goessmann, principal investigator on the Cometary Sampling and Composition instrument (COSAC), told …


  1. Pirate Dave

    Secret mode?

    "engineer who built it to unlock a secret extra power setting dubbed "desperation mode."

    Let me guess - they had to type in IDDQD ...

    1. Steven Raith
      Thumb Up

      Re: Secret mode?

      IDKFA, you amateur.


      So how long before the major religions update their spiel to include how complex organic molecules got onto comets?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Secret mode?

        Actually, the code for passing through something without the expected obstruction is IDSPISPOPD.

        [Off-topic: Which game gave you invulnerability if you pressed F7 instead of Return at the Graphic Mode selection screen, then 'i' during the game? Hint: It was famed for its music, but not on the PC version.]

        1. Midnight

          Re: Secret mode?

          Yes, but the code for hitting things really really hard is still IDKFA.

          1. Swiss Anton

            Re: Secret mode?

            IDKFA .I had to look this up and I was somewhat disappointed with the results.

            As an engineer of pre-web vintage, I suggest better meaning - "If in Doubt - Kick/Knock it F***ing 'Ard". That has always worked for me.

        2. ThomH Silver badge

          Re: Secret mode? @Dave 126

          Xenon 2, naturally.

          Actually, I didn't know the cheat. But how many games were really famed for their music before the PC could keep up?

        3. Pirate Dave

          Re: Secret mode?

          I forgot about the IDSPISPOPD code. Yep, that might have been better suited.

      2. Javapapa

        Re: Secret mode?

        No need to update anything.

        "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." - Gen 1:1 (KJV)

        Includes P67.

        1. Michael Dunn

          Re: Secret mode? @Javapapa

          "In the beginning, God said the four-dimensional divergence of an antisymmetric,

          second rank tensor equals zero, and there was Light, and it was good."

          (Can't remember where I snitched this from - apologies to originator)

      3. Tom 35 Silver badge

        Re: Secret mode?

        "So how long before the major religions update their spiel to include how complex organic molecules got onto comets?"

        They already have an answer. One that works for everything.

        God did it.

        He also put stars 13 billion light years away and put all the light in place between there and here so we could see it.

        Fossils, plate tectonics, carbon dating... god did it. Faked everything, just to test our faith.

        God is the biggest troll in the universe.

        1. dan1980

          Re: Secret mode?

          @Tom 35

          You don't need any revisions whatsoever.

          There are two broad groupings of religious folks - let's focus on Christianity as it is the most familiar to most of us - the moderates and the fundamentalists.

          The moderates are, generally, fine with evolution and the age of the universe and the earth and many may find no conflict with their faith and the idea of panspermia. After all, if they accept the idea that life started as very, very basic and grew from there, then there's really no problem saying that the basic pre-cursors of life could have come from an meteor/meteorite

          The fundamentalists, however, will never accept such a proposal. Any evidence that contradicts their world view is either distorted (or plain lied about) to fit their beliefs or discarded.

          So no problems here - those who are fine with this will accept it and move on; those who aren't will say that the experiment was flawed push some tortured theory to bring it into line, quoting some ambiguous/poetic/scientifically-illiterate passages to back it up.

          1. stu 4


            I like the way that you suggest the 'moderates' are less deranged and misguided and DONT'T lack the ability for logical thought....

            Frankly, if you believe in magical invisible fairies creating the universe, I fail to see whether the fairy doing things quickly or doing things slowly is particularly relevant....

            1. dan1980

              Re: @dan1980

              @stu 4

              People who accept established facts like evolution and the antiquity of the Earth and the universe that contains it are in my view much less "misguided" than those people who insist on a young Earth and a special creation, flatly denying those same facts.

              If any of those "moderates" - and there are many gradations - still believe in, say, original sin, while accepting evolution then those people are perhaps misguided* but I would submit that a failure to adequately analyse the nitty-gritty consequences or inconsistencies of one's beliefs is being "misguided" to far less of a degree than someone who would discard evidence out of hand.

              Essentially, much of this evidence goes towards disproving traditional religious beliefs. Some discard the evidence in favour of their beliefs while others accept the evidence but don't go so far as to actually re-evaluate those beliefs that might be in conflict.

              If you ask me which of the two I would consider as a partner or want making decisions on my behalf in government or teaching my (imaginary) children, well, that's an easy one.

              * - I say "perhaps misguided" because I believe "uncritically accepting of established views" to be more precise.

              1. DropBear Silver badge

                Re: @dan1980

                If you ask me which of the two I would consider as a partner or want making decisions on my behalf in government or teaching my (imaginary) children, well, that's an easy one.

                Absolutely so: definitely neither. Now go ahead and downvote away, it's ok - I'll still prefer to associate with people who don't voluntarily forego the use of their brains.

                1. Adair

                  Re: @dan1980

                  'I'll still prefer to associate with people who don't voluntarily forego the use of their brains.' - well that goes for me too, and I'm a paid up Christian.

                  Funny how we can find 'brainless' people all over the place; or maybe it would be more accurate to say closed-minded, prejudiced, bigoted, self-righteous, etc. You know the type, they can only accept their own point of view, get all defensive if anybody suggests anything different, and are quick to pour scorn and mockery on the 'brain dead people who refuse to see things my way'.

                  You find them everywhere: in the blogosphere, on the TV, in the office, down the pub, in our own living rooms, and members of churches too. They sit alongside the ones who are interested in all sorts of possibilities, finding out what other folk think and believe, and seeing what we can do to make the most of the limited time we have to explore and make choices about what matters and how to put it into practice.

                  In my experience I have found those generous spirited, interested, curious, and thoughtful kinds of people everywhere as well. Regardless of the label pinned on them they are usually by far the more interesting and entertaining.

                  1. Bleu

                    Re: @dan1980

                    You are absolutely right but you are completely off-topic (sure, not alone in that on this thread).

                2. Sarah Balfour

                  Re: @dan1980

                  I'm fairly open-minded - so if Darwinian theory's also a crock o' monkey bollocks, then what's the alternative - intergalactic space lizards…?!

                  I've never really accepted Darwin as definitive, just as the best we've come up with thus far, kinda deal. If there's summat more plausible, I'd like to hear about it.

                  As an aside, I learnt about the book of Urantia yesterday, on one of my Wikipedia wanderings, have to say I'd never come across it before. Appears to be some kind of a middle ground, i.e. scientific theory acceptable to at least SOME of the sky-fairy fuckwits.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: @dan1980

                    Definitely space lizards. Its the only explanation. That and 42.

            2. Kyle Roberts

              Re: @dan1980

              I agree! I can't believe that ANY kind of "Fairy" created the universe! I'm sure their pink frilly dresses would have inhibited their magic!


        2. CarbonLifeForm

          Re: Secret mode?

          I'm confused by the assertion that finding organic matter on an asteroid is somehow dispositive of anything.

          If anything, finding organic matter on comets calls Oparin-type scenarios into question. Life may not have originated in any Earth-bound primordial soup at all, in which case most of the standard theories on the origin of life need updating - they assume conditions *on Earth* gave rise to life. Maybe conditions on Earth just *accepted life* already evolved elsewhere.

          As for the God angle - really, why do non-religious people assume all religious people are narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire? It must be projection! :-)

          1. dan1980

            Re: Secret mode?


            Well, that really depends on a few definitions, specifically, what you define as "life" and "evolved".

            Presumably, one would say that "life" is that which is "alive". Is a basic organic compound "alive"? Most would argue that no, "organic" does not imply "life". (Actually, there you'd need to define "organic" as well, though whatever the definition, the amino acids found on meteorites so far certainly qualify!)

            To the other term, "evolved" is problematic because you have to define exactly what you mean by that. It is a more general word and so one can talk about the "evolution" of opinions, or the "evolution" of a star or a whole galaxy.

            So, one could also say that there was an "evolution" from basic organic compounds to more complex ones through to DNA. However, when the word "evolution" is used, it is most frequently used to denote evolution by natural selection, which as a pre-requisite, requires the transmission of data to subsequent generations of the organism - however you define that.

            Thus, "evolution" only starts up once something like DNA is on the scene.

            One problem faced (depending on the hypothesis) is the particular sugar (ribose) required for RNA and DNA is not necessarily created overly abundantly by any known reactions as these produce many other, different compounds as well. Thus the idea that pre-RNA compounds may have arrived via meteroites. We already know that meteorites can carry organic compounds including amino acids so this is not at all a stretch.

            It may be that the required pre-cursors came from a meteorite or it may be that a meteorite simply enriched an existing 'soup' with enough extra goodness to pass some critical threshold where more of the required self-assembly could occur and thus give the process a leg-up.

          2. Psyx

            Re: Secret mode?

            Correct me if my memory has done me a disservice, but isn't any carbon-based chemistry 'organic'. And carbon is pretty common. So this isn't really news.

            If it's COMPLEX organic chemistry taking place that would be good news, but that's not what appears to be announced

            /puzzled by the excitement.

            1. Bleu

              Re: Secret mode?


              I was about to post much the same, but followed my usual custom of tracking until I found a sensible post.

              Indeed, 'organic' meaning carbon-centric, also CHON as the main bits.

              Amino acids? Maybe, sounds like the sampling was about as successful as our Hayabusa a few years back, a *very* small sample.

              Most of the other posts are centred on cod-philosophy or religion, or denial that Philae largely FAILED. I hope that it reawakens under more light, but it sounds unlikely. If it does, it doesn't have a surface-sampling tool any more.

              'Organic' produce seems a particularly unfortunate term, suppose that's what you have to expect from people who hate science and maths at school! Not that I don't check and prefer 'organic' produce at times!

              Controversial on the reg., I know, but glad our govt. doesn't allow GM foods.

          3. Drakkenson

            Re: Secret mode?

            @ "As for the God angle - really, why do non-religious people assume all religious people are narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire?"

            Because they really are, by and large?

            Even my own family looked at me as if I was sick in the head when I told them i don't believe...

            1. Adair

              Re: Secret mode?

              '@ "As for the God angle - really, why do non-religious people assume all religious people are narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire?"

              Because they really are, by and large?'

              OTOH, they really aren't, by and large. We could go on like this all day, couldn't we. My experience, which now stretches over several countries and more than 30 years of 'active faith', is that your experience, whilst possibly common, is by no means the norm.

              So, 'religious people' are generally, in my experience, pretty much like all people, when it comes to the proportion who are 'narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire'---which may be about what we should expect, although I would hope, at least when it comes to Christian faith (which is what I know about) there would be a tendency for a lower frequency of those negative qualities, given what lies at the heart of Christian faith.

              Anyhow, roll on the discoveries' out there' as well as 'down here'. It's exciting stuff.

        3. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Secret mode?

          As opposed to "evolution did it"?

          I fail to see much difference between "god did it" and "it was random stuff we don't understand.". Advanced tech and magic comparisons spring to mind.

          Isn't pansperia just an admission that the maths for evolution on earth doesn't work?

          1. dan1980

            Re: Secret mode?


            It's impossible - or at least unproductive - to have any such discussion that fails to define the terms properly.

            There are a bunch of steps that need to happen to go from inorganic matter on a newly-formed earth to the matter with the kind of self-replication and hereditary characteristics upon which natural selection can act.

            Many of those steps are still unknown but well-supported, such as the 'RNA-world' theory, wherein RNA was the based of some form of "life" that pre-dated RNA and that these reactions actually formed some kind of selective pressure and competition whereby some chains of ribonucleotides were more successful than others.

            You have the question of how these ribonucleotides got there in the first place and this is a quandry as it seems difficult to 'make' these in the conditions suspected on the pre-biotic Earth, not least of all because it is unclear how sufficient quantities of free ribose could arise based on the reactions known or suspected. But even then some research has shown, however that ribonucleotides can form without the necessity of having the two components available from the start.

            And so it goes.

            BUT, all this is really pre-evolution in the way the term is generally used. The point is that the path from inorganic to "life" is as yet unknown but more and more parts are being filled in all the time. We may never know exactly what did happen but scientists are putting together impressive collections of plausible scenarios - enough to show that it could have happened.

          2. CarbonLifeForm

            Re: Secret mode?

            Organic compounds aren't life any more than a pile of rocks is Buckingham Palace... Being made of similar things does not address how you are made. And organic just means "containing carbon".

            For the record, I think it bears restating that non-speculative evolution is primarily concerned with how life changed from one form to another - primitive unicellular organisms to Paris Hilton, for example.

            You can observe natural selection-driven evolution happen in bacterial cultures, in animal populations, etc. But while there are many hypotheses on abiogenesis, AFAIK they suffer from having far less experimental evidence to back them up. I am unaware of any good experimental proof of self-replicating chemical compounds arising from simple reagents *in conditions that resemble the primordial soup*, i.e. non-intentional natural chemical reactors. Amino acids, yes - that was Oparin's experiment. But nothing as cool as RNA. Yes, they've made RNA in the lab, and I am certain we will be able to cook up replicants one day in the lab - it's just chemistry. But the only way to prove abiogenesis is to simulate, in vitro or in silica, a non-intentional environment and demonstrate how life itself will arise inevitably as an epiphenomenon wherever sufficient energy and chemicals obtain. If making life requires a lab and a crew of boffins, you are very much *not* proving abiogenesis - you are demonstrating biogenesis. The boffins are alive, and they are intelligently designing life. :-D Or if you prefer they are reproducing in a weird way.

            There's a really cool novel (out of print maybe) called the Dark Cloud, about a sentient nebula which swings by the Earth and humans communicate with it via radio waves. One of the interesting ideas in the book is that planet bound life is rare in the Universe, and that cloud-based diffuse biochemistry is very common and the cloud has many fellows. The aliens are everywhere, but they are nebula essentially. It is suggested as I recall that a fellow cloud may have seeded the earth to see what would happen. While this is reductio ad deum, the point is that our kind of life may be so unusual that extrapolations therefrom may be useless.

            When we find self-replicating anything out there, it'll be a great moment.

      4. Kyle Roberts

        Re: Secret mode?

        So that's what this is about? 'Disproving' religion? :-D ROTFL

      5. Jaybus

        Re: Secret mode?

        I suspect that they will wait for confirmation. Notice that the team is quick to withhold any claims until further analysis determines just how complex these molecules are. My guess is that they discovered methane out in deep space......again. Since an ocean full of methane on Titan didn't cause too much of a stir with the major religions, I shouldn't think a dusting of it on a comet would bother them. No need for them to worry just now. Until RNA or DNA is found in deep space, the transpermiation theory is just as speculative as the "God did it" theory.

    2. DNTP

      Re: Secret mode?


      To get the chainsaw, obviously.

    3. Rusty 1

      Re: Secret mode?

      And for drilling, that is merely the deployment of an SDS drill. I'm sure they could have budgeted for a kilo or two of proper drill. OK, the 230/110v supply might be troublesome, but that's a just a practicality for the engineers.

      Could have branded the comet with "Makita Inside" logos too. Must be worth a bob or two of advertising revenue :-)

    4. Benchops

      Re: Secret mode?

      I thought it was 6031769

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Secret mode?

        Nope - WRITETYPER

    5. Kane Silver badge

      Re: Secret mode?

      ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Secret mode?


        1. Richard Wharram

          Re: Secret mode?


    6. The Vociferous Time Waster

      Re: Secret mode?

      I heard they used the control stick and used up up down down left right left right B A

      1. Bleu

        Re: Secret mode?

        It sounds like Space Channel 5 (I have synathaesia for sound and vision), but also looks like the Konami code. Not having used it lately, I suppose I am wrong.

        Lef-righ-lef-righ, shoo shoo shoot!

        I guess anybody under thirty will not remember how revolutionary Space Channel 5 was and looked. I have to reconnect my Dreamcast!

        Oh no, I am also going off-topic!

        ... not completely, the Moon stage has some connection with Philae!

  2. Chemist

    "Panspermia has some influential supporters, including Prof Stephen Hawking. Researchers have claimed to have found examples of extraterrestrial bacteria inside meteorites,"

    Oh, good grief, It may have started somewhere else but so what, you can't keep passing the parcel forever. It had to start somewhere, at some time, why not here ?

    1. Mikel

      Re: why not here?

      Billions of suns for eight billion years before Sol's first light. Stars born and burned out their life before there ever was a man to look into the night sky and ask, "are we alone?"

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: why not here?

        A poetic suggestion of Drake's Equation. Nice.

        We are beginning to get some more data to plug into that equation, with more exo-planets being discovered. Some people believed that our moon is an unusual companion for our blue sphere, and that the tides it gives us might have allowed more complex molecules to form over successive wet/dry cycles.

        Who knows.

        1. G Watty What?

          Re: why not here?

          who knows?

          The little baby Jesus

      2. Bucky O' Hare

        Re: why not here?

        Very well put. It's extremely ignorant of us to think to the contrary, isn't it?

    2. John D. Blair

      Because then we're probably not alone

      Because if it didn't start here, but "out there, somewhere" then there's a high probability life, as we know it, exists on any planet with a similar climate.

      If it only started here then the rare conditions that led to life have to happen in more than one place for life to exist in more than one place. If life spreads around the universe it only has to happen once in the lifetime of the universe.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        ho-hum, another materialist using time as a magic black box pronouncement. As most religions have no real concept of creation outside of Christianity and Judaism, they will be unaffected. Most official christian denominations are atheist in world view with a religious language veneer. The old men in Rome have fully accepted biological materialism only a decade or two after protestants rolled over. As in Darwins time they will fall over themselves to agree with whatever is culturally accepted.

        Back in the real world, organic molecules are a long way from anything describable as a protein, let alone life. Since the past is not "scientifically" evaluable, agnosticism on the subject is appropriate. It is probable that Earth is the only place with life based on what is _known_, not speculated. That might change if someone builds a Heim drive or close analogue. The projected successors to Webb might not have the ability to analyse small rocky world atmospheres.

      2. Chemist

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        "t only has to happen once in the lifetime of the universe."

        It's a huge, huge distance to anywhere. Doesn't make it impossible. But at the mo' it's just organic compounds, not DNA, RNA whoa. Wait for the data.

        1. dan1980

          Re: Because then we're probably not alone


          "But at the mo' it's just organic compounds, not DNA, RNA whoa. Wait for the data."

          I think that makes it all the better. Personally, I find the idea of very BASIC organic compounds being distributed by meteors to suggest that it's even more likely that life exists elsewhere.

          After all, having more 'evolved', complex compounds may make them more 'picky', in that only a small subset of potential life-bearing worlds would have the correct properties to support that specific type of compound.

          Simpler compounds might be able progress to more complex compounds suitable to the particular environment they encounter.

          So, DNA/RNA would be possibly unique to Earth, having developed here from simpler precursors that, had they landed on another planet, may have developed into something that performs a similar function but is not the same.

          1. Chemist

            Re: Because then we're probably not alone

            "I find the idea of very BASIC organic compounds......."

            Very basic organic compounds are found all over the place, simple organics form readily from CO, CO2, H2, H2O + energy. There's really no need to have them arrive by comet/meteorite.

            (Remember the 'organic' bit doesn't mean LIFE or formed by living organisms - it is just is an (historical) name for carbon/hydrogen based chemistry.)

      3. Chemist

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        "If life spreads around the universe it only has to happen once in the lifetime of the universe."

        Basically bollocks - maybe true but so, so unlikely - it's a big,hard, difficult universe out there.


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