Experiment Shows How Asteroids Brought Water To Earth

Posted: Apr 26 2018, 9:10am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 26 2018, 9:18am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Show How Asteroids Brought Water to Earth
Credit: ESA

Using a high-powered projectile cannon, researchers show how impacts by water-rich asteroids can deliver surprising amounts of water to Earth and other planetary bodies

The origin of Earth’s water is still largely a mystery. Some researchers believe that the water was already present at the formation of Earth, while other suggest that it was later brought to our planet by a celestial body such as asteroid. A new study also lends supports to the latter theory. Using high-powered projectile cannon, researchers demonstrate how water-rich asteroids can deliver surprising amounts of water to planetary bodies.

Elements like water are essential ingredients to life on Earth, so researchers are eager to know how water arrived on our planet. But the mechanisms by which this water is transported to Earth have been unclear. The new research not only provides more insight into the origin of Earth’s water but can also help find water anywhere else in the solar system.

"The origin and transportation of water and volatiles is one of the big questions in planetary science," said lead researcher Terik Daly from Johns Hopkins University. "These experiments reveal a mechanism by which asteroids could deliver water to moons, planets and other asteroids. It's a process that started while the solar system was forming and continues to operate today."

To understand how water was carried by asteroids, researchers used marble-sized projectiles with a composition similar to meteorites derived from ancient, water-rich asteroid. Then, they blasted projectiles towards a completely dry object with the help of Vertical Gun Range. Vertical Gun Range is a NASA facility that is typically used to mimic meteorite or asteroid impacts on a small scale. During the experiment, researchers released the projectiles at a speed of around 5 kilometers per second to a waterless pumice rock, which represents our Earth. They analyzed the impact with analytical tools and looked for signs of any water trapped within it.

Researchers reveal that a significant amount of the water from the projectiles was found trapped inside the impact debris, a type of rock known as a breccias as well as the material melted by the heat of the impact. Researchers say that breccias and the melted stuff can capture up to 30% of the water carried by carbonaceous chondrite–like projectiles under impact conditions of the main asteroid belt and the early phases of planet formation.

"What we're suggesting is that the water vapor gets ingested into the melts and breccias as they form. So even though the impactor loses its water, some of it is recaptured as the melt rapidly quenches,” said co-author Pete Schultz from Brown University. "The point is that this gives us a mechanism for how water can stick around after these asteroid impacts. And it shows why experiments are so important because this is something that models have missed."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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