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The probe that landed on the surface of a comet has discovered organic molecules, the most rudimentary building blocks of life, according to the German agency involved in the mission.

An instrument aboard the Philae lander detected the molecules after “sniffing” the comet’s atmosphere. An organic compound is one whose molecules contain the carbon atom, the basis of life on earth.

Scientists are analysing the data to see whether the organic compounds detected by Philae are simple ones — such as methane and methanol — or a more complex species such as amino acids, the building blocks for proteins.

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