Scientists from a team at the Carnegie Institution have discovered that the water on planet Earth is older than our Sun. How is that possible, and why is it important?
Water was crucial to the rise of life on Earth, and is also important to evaluating the possibility of life on other planets. Identifying where the water on Earth came from is key to understanding how life-fostering environments came into being in the past, and how they continued to do so. The Carnegie research team found that much of our Solar System’s water likely originated as ice that formed in interstellar space, according to The Space Reporter.
Contrary to popular belief, water is found throughout our Solar System. Not just on Earth, but on comets and moons, and in the shadowed basins of Mercury. Water has been found included in mineral samples from meteorites, the Moon, and Mars. Comets and asteroids primarily provide a “time capsule” of the earliest conditions in our Solar system, and the ice they contain tell scientists about the ice that encircled the Sun shortly after the star’s birth.
When the Sun was young, it was surrounded by a protoplanetary disk, from which the planets were born. But it was unclear to researchers whether the ice in this disk originated from the Sun’s own parental interstellar molecular cloud from which it was created, or whether this interstellar water had been destroyed and was re-formed by the chemical reactions taking place in the solar nebula.
The Carnegie’s Conel Alexander explained the significance of the reasearch according to EurekAlert.
“Why this is important? If water in the early Solar System was primarily inherited as ice from interstellar space, then it is likely that similar ices, along with the prebiotic organic matter that they contain, are abundant in most or all protoplanetary disks around forming stars. But if the early Solar System’s water was largely the result of local chemical processing during the Sun’s birth, then it is possible that the abundance of water varies considerably in forming planetary systems, which would obviously have implications for the potential for the emergence of life elsewhere.”
So, water formation around young stars is common in our universe, though the precise makeup of that water, and the prospect for new life to derive from it, varies.
Mr. Alexander continued, “Our findings show that a significant fraction of our Solar System’s water, the most-fundamental ingredient to fostering life, is older than the Sun, which indicates that abundant, organic-rich interstellar ices should probably be found in all young planetary systems.”
Mr. Alexander’s research was funded by the NSF, the Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship and NASA.
[Image via Wikimedia]