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The uncertainty of science: Unexpectedly scientists using Rosetta data have discovered oxygen in the coma of Comet 67P/C-G.
It was not immediately clear where the oxygen came from. The team discovered that water and oxygen were often found together — an indication that similar processes released both molecules. But Bieler and his colleagues ruled out many scenarios in which oxygen arises as a by-product when energetic particles such as photons and electrons split apart water. Instead, the researchers argue that the oxygen is a remnant from when 67P formed billions of years ago, a process that may have trapped the gas in small grains of ice and rock that coalesced to create the comet’s solid core.
But many models of the early Solar System rule this out because most oxygen tends to pair off with hydrogen. Given this affinity, it is tricky to adjust models of the early Solar System to allow for the survival of gaseous O2, says Mike A’Hearn, an astronomer at the University of Maryland in College Park and a co-investigator on Alice. But he adds that it may be possible with the right chemical abundances and temperature conditions.