An unlikely source
A team of researchers from the University of Glasgow have discovered what they believe to be the origins of how water ended up on Earth.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, researchers have uncovered 'persuasive' new evidence that the origin of water on our planet can be traced back to space dust particles that have been charged by the Sun.
“Over time, the ‘space weathering’ effect of the hydrogen ions can eject enough oxygen atoms from materials in the rock to create H2O.”
That's right, the Sun, the big red hot thing that we obit is now the number one suspect for water on Earth. But there's more to it than that.
Researchers from the UK, Australia, and America describe how a new analysis of an ancient asteroid proposes that extra-terrestrial dust grains carried water to Earth as the planet formed.
The water in the grains was formed by the effects of solar winds - the process by which charged particles from the Sun altered the chemical composition of the grains and created water molecules.
Solar winds, otherwise known as space weathering, are streams of mostly hydrogen and helium ions that flow constantly from the Sun out into space.
When these hydrogen ions hit an airless surface, such as an asteroid or a dust particle, they are able to penetrate a few tens of nanometres below the surface. Once these ions have penetrated that deep they can affect the chemical composition of the rock.
Speaking on how water becomes present in space dust, Dr Luke Daly, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences and the paper’s lead author, said: "Over time, the ‘space weathering’ effect of the hydrogen ions can eject enough oxygen atoms from materials in the rock to create H2O – water – trapped within minerals on the asteroid."
Answering an impossible question
Scientists have long questioned just how water came to be on our planet.
It was previously thought that during the period of the formation of our planet, a space rock known as a C-type asteroid brought water to Earth some 4.6 billion years ago.
Since then, smaller C-type asteroids have fallen to earth and tests have been carried out to determine how their composition ratio compared to this theory. Results were not that conclusive as some contained hydrogen that matched and others did not.