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Researchers confirm presence of nitrogen on recently-mapped comet

Evidence of nitrogen on a comet mapped in 2015 was established in a new study by Dr. Oliver Poch and his team of researchers. Photo courtesy of European Space Agency
Evidence of nitrogen on a comet mapped in 2015 was established in a new study by Dr. Oliver Poch and his team of researchers. Photo courtesy of European Space Agency

March 13 (UPI) -- Researchers confirmed the presence of nitrogen on a recently-mapped comet by using a lab simulation to detect ammonium salt, containing nitrogen, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science.

Researchers used the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, known as Chury and mapped by the Rosetta satellite in 2015, to make the finding.

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The comet consists of a combination of minerals, and almost uniform in distribution, but the exact nature of compounds responsible for its absorption features have been difficult to establish until now.

Comets and asteroids offer an understanding of how planets were formed, scientists say, since they have made no evolutionary advancements and can be regarded as the archives, or building blocks, of the solar system.

Dr. Oliver Poch led a team of researchers at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics at the Université de Grenoble Alpes in creating models, or cometary analogs, and simulated conditions found in space. The presence of ammonium salts, containing nitrogen, as a specific feature of Chury was a part of their conclusions.

The results were identical to those concluded from data on Chury from Rosetta, compiled at the University of Bern. It confirms the presence of nitrogen, regarded as a building block of life, in the covering of comets but hidden in ammonium salts.

The occurrence was not measurable until the experiments of Poch and his team, researchers say.

The results also contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of nitrogen in space and its role in prebiotic, existing prior to the existence of life, chemistry.

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