The Philae space probe was powered down earlier than expected, but not before an instrument discovered an organic compound that was first detected in the comet’s atmosphere, the Wall Street Journal exclusively reported Monday. The find is extraordinary considering the organic compound contains the carbon atom, which is the basis of life on planet Earth.

Further research is being conducted to see if there are complex compounds like amino acids or simple ones like methane and methanol, considered “building blocks” for proteins.

The research “will help us to understand whether organic molecules were brought by comets to the early earth,” Stephan Ulamec, the Philae’s landing manager said, according to the Journal.

comet A probe named Philae is seen after it landed safely on a comet, known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in this CIVA handout image released Nov. 13, 2014. Photo: Reuters/ESA Handout

The European Space Agency (ESA) said the probe fell into hibernation after it only got 1.5 hours of light a day instead of the expected seven. Even though Philae “fell silent,” it was still able to send the information it retrieved while it was functioning -- that’s how the organic compound discovery was found.

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“Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence,” Ulamec said. “This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered.” 

Before it went idle, Philae conducted 60 hours of work on Comet 67P, The Conversation said. One of its missions was to ascertain if complex organic molecules, which could have helped create Earth billions of years ago, existed on comets.

Philae’s landing was not only historical, but also a hit on social media. Philae’s monumental landing arguably overshadowed reality star Kim Kardashian’s nude photos from Paper magazine, even though the starlet intended to “break the internet.” Data showed more people talked about Philae’s landing by nearly 170,000 tweets, the Journal wrote in another article, citing Topsy. There were 479,434 tweets in 24 hours about the comet landing, while Kardashian had 307,782 mentions in the same time period.

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