‘A space mission that deserves the Nobel’

A European mission that made the first landing on a comet deserves the Nobel Prize, the head of the European Space Agency (ESA) has said.

“I hope there will be Nobel prizewinners coming along thanks to Philae and Rosetta,” said ESA chief Jean-Jacques Dordain, referring to the robot lab that made the historic landing, and its mother ship.

The mission “is a love story,” Dr. Dordain told journalists in Paris.

“We will be amassing an amount of data... that in my opinion will keep scientists busy for decades to come.”

Approved in 1993, the Rosetta mission is all about exploring the composition of comets.

Data on water

Believed to be primordial clusters of ice and dust left from the building of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago, comets contain insights into how the planets formed, astrophysicists believe.

The mission has been hailed as a landmark in space exploration, bringing together unprecedented feats of navigation and engineering.

The prestigious U.S. journal Science named the landing as the top scientific breakthrough of 2014.

Early analysis of data sent back by Rosetta suggest that asteroids, and not comets as previously theorised, provided Earth with water, the precious stuff for making life as we know it. Evidence for this comes from telltale ratios in water molecules between deuterium, a hydrogen isotope, and hydrogen, which forms water when combined with oxygen.

The 100-kilogramme (220-pound) Philae landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12 after a 10-year trek piggybacking on Rosetta. — AFP

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