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The Birth of Our Solar System

Rosetta scientists have discovered oxygen in the atmosphere of comet 67P, saying it is the most surprising discovery of the mission to date.

The scientists tested the comet’s atmosphere over seven months and found oxygen to be the most common gas after water vapour, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

Professor Kathrin Altwegg said that they thought the result was a mistake when they first saw the data.

‘We had never thought that oxygen could survive for billions of years without combining with other substances,’ she said.

The scientists believe the oxygen may have been trapped in small grains of ice and rock that went on to form the comet’s solid core.

Another scientist working on the study, physicist Andre Bieler, said the discovery could mean that the theory that our Solar System was formed from a violent process is wrong since such a process would have heated up the frozen oxygen causing it to react and combine with other elements.

‘All the models say that it [the oxygen] shouldn't have survived for so long, which tells us something about the building of our Solar System – it had to be very gentle.’

Watch The Birth of Our Solar System to learn more about this common theory.

Watch The Elements: Oxygen to learn more about a substance that is crucial to life on Earth.