Meteor strike offers scientists clues into the origins of Earth's water

2022-12-08 11:06:49China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The water on the meteor lends idea to the thought that we owe this life-giving power to outer space

Water in liquid form is a simple and common molecule which nevertheless distinguishes Earth from all other planets in the solar system. Without it life would be utterly impossible. Its origins and just why it formed on our planet specifically has been debated among scientists. When a meteorite crashed into a small English village last year, the mystery became clearer. Recently analysed by scientists, this object that fell from the heavens into the sleepy town of Gloucestershire contained water from space, which was chemically near identical to that found on Earth, lending idea to the thought that we owe this life-giving power to outer space.

After a fireball was seen streaking over the night sky in the English countryside, more than 500 grams of debris was collected from locals' gardens, driveways and fields and then analysed at the Natural History Museum in London.

Around 11 percent of the mass of this debris was water, and within it contained a similar ratio of hydrogen atoms to the water found on Earth. Some conventional scientists think that during the formation of the Earth in its early volatile days, high temperatures would have discarded most of the planet's water. To have so much now to the point where 70 percent of the world is covered by it, a later addition of H2O must have taken place.

Early suggestions of icy comets contributing towards our literal liquid assets were dismissed, when it was discovered that the chemical composition of the ice was nowhere near the type of water residing on Earth. But the type of water found in the Gloucestershire meteor was nearly identical. The case becomes even stronger given the fact that samples were collected in less than 12 hours from skyfall, meaning that there was very little time for the rocks to be contaminated by existing water planetside.

Even more excitingly, amino acids original to the meteorite were found. The building blocks of life, amino acids are molecules that when formed together in long chains produce proteins. This indicates that the primordial origins of life on Earth could have originated from a process called Panspermia, the concept that life and its biological components can originate and spread from planet to planet by hitching a ride on comets and meteors.

From the camera footage of the meteorite that fell into Gloucestershire, its trajectory was able to be calculated to a precise degree, indicating that the body originated from the outer asteroid belt which lies between Mars and Jupiter. Through analysing the atoms on the meteorite and how they react to cosmic rays and irradiation, it is estimated that it took two to three hundred thousand years to arrive in our atmosphere.

Scientists are able to unveil an extraordinary amount of comprehensive information from such a small rock that has entered our atmosphere, offering clues to the very origins of water and life on our planet. With just a small section of studies carried out so far and with many more planned in the next few years, more secrets could yet be unveiled about our planet from this tiny extraterrestrial rock.


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