In a remarkable milestone in space exploration, the European Space Agency last year succeeded in landing a spacecraft on comet 67P. One scientist called this "the most difficult space landing in history": landing a refrigerator-sized probe on a 10 trillion kilogram chunk of rock, dust and ice; only a couple kilometres across, yet 500 million kilometres away, and moving at 135,000 km/h.
To be sure, the landing didn’t quite go according to plan, and the Philae lander spent the better part of the last year in hibernation mode after its batteries ran down due to reduced sunlight at its unplanned landing site on comet 67P. But a few weeks ago Philae "woke up" and started communicating with its parent ship, Rosetta, which orbits the comet.
Now Philae has revealed that 67P has features such as an organic-rich black crust, the most likely explanation for which - some scientists have claimed - is the presence of living organisms beneath an icy surface. The scientist leading the claims is Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, a well-known (and rather controversial) astronomer and astrobiologist at the University of Buckingham.
I can’t help but think that the reports of the possibility of alien life on comet 67P appear to have been greatly over-hyped in the media (some sources calling the evidence for life "unequivocal"), and that the scientists' claims are, in the first place, extremely sensational. Indeed, Professor Wickramasinghe has a history of making bold claims (never accepted by mainstream science) to have detected extraterrestrial microbes. Still, I believe as strongly as the next person that the Universe must be absolutely teeming with life, and it’s exciting to think that extraterrestrial life might just exist a lot closer to home than previously imagined...
Two top astronomers say the comet that is now home to the Philae lander could also be inhabited by microbial alien life. Several characteristics of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, such as its organic-rich black crust, are best explained by the presence of living organisms beneath its icy surface, reports The Guardian.