An ancient meteorite that crash-landed on a gorge in the United Kingdom may have solved the mystery of the source of Earth’s water.
The 4.6-billion-year-old space rock, which slammed down in front of a family home in the English town of Winchcombe in February 2021, contains water that closely resembles the chemical composition of water found on Earth — offering a possible explanation for how our planet was seeded with the life-giving substance.
When the rocky inner planets of youth Solar System They first coalesced—coagulated from hot clouds of gas and dust rising near the Sun—too close to our star to form the oceans. In fact, after a certain point called the frost line, the ice can no longer escape evaporation, making the young a land Barren and inhospitable land. Scientists believe that this changed after the Earth cooled, when it snowed asteroids From the outer solar system brought frozen water to our planet to melt. Now, a new analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite, published Nov. 16 in the journal Nature Science advancesgave weight to this theory.
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“One of the biggest questions for the scientific community is, How did we get here?” Study co-author Luke DalyLecturer in Planetary Geosciences, University of Glasgow. he said in a statement. “This analysis on the Winchcombe meteorite gives insight into how Earth got its water – the source of so much life. Researchers will continue to work on this sample for years to come, uncovering more secrets in the origins of our solar system.”
The space rock, a rare, carbon-rich type called a carbonaceous chondrite, was collected only a few hours after it hit Earth and has remained largely uncontaminated, making it “one of the most pristine meteorites available for analysis”; Lead author Ashley King, a researcher at London’s Natural History Museum, said it provides “a tantalizing glimpse through time into the original formation of the solar system”.
To analyze the minerals and elements inside the rock, the researchers polished, heated, and bombarded it with X-rays and lasers, revealing that it came from an asteroid in orbit around Jupiter and that 11% of the meteorite’s mass was water.
The hydrogen in the asteroid’s water came in two forms – regular hydrogen and an isotope of hydrogen known as deuterium, which is used to make “heavy water”. Scientists found that the ratio of hydrogen to deuterium matches the ratio found in water on Earth, strongly suggesting that meteorite water and our planet’s water share a point of origin. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and later life, are also found within the rock.
To expand on this research, scientists may analyze other space rocks floating around the solar system, such as the Ryugu asteroid, which has also been found to contain the building blocks of life. A comprehensive survey of space rocks of the solar system could give scientists a better idea of which rocks helped sow the seeds of early Earth, and where they came from.
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