Earth’s water came from an asteroid strike, new research suggests

Salt crystals – which only form when liquid water is present – were discovered in an asteroid sample brought back to Earth as part of a Japanese sample-return mission.

Published Today Natural Astronomy, new research is evidence to support the theory that all water on Earth’s surface originally came from an asteroid impact. That’s because Earth—along with Mars, Venus, and Mercury—is thought to have formed near the Sun, where temperatures were too high for water vapor to condense into liquid water.

However, S-type (stony or silicate) asteroids — sampled in 2005, such as Itokawa brought to Earth by the Hayabusa mission in 2010 — were thought to lack water-bearing minerals.

Since most of the asteroids in the inner solar system are S-types, it’s possible that there are suddenly lots of wet asteroids out there.

University of Arizona researchers Lunar and Planetary Observatory Sodium chloride—found in traces of table salt samples.

„Ordinary chondrites were long thought to be an unlikely source of water on Earth.” said Shoban Che, Principal Writer and Director Kuiper Materials Imaging & Characterization Facility, who ruled out every possible source of contamination. „Our discovery of sodium chloride suggests that this asteroid population may contain more water than we thought.”

Most such asteroids burn up in Earth’s atmosphere and never reach the surface. „You need a rock big enough to hold the inlets and deliver that water,” Che said.

previous Research proposed that water molecules in the early solar system could have been trapped in asteroid minerals and sustained impact on Earth. „Those studies suggest that many oceans could provide valuable water through this mechanism,” said Tom Zega, senior author of the study and professor of planetary science at the Lunar and Planetary Observatory. „Now if it turns out that the most common asteroids may be 'wetter’ than we thought, that would make the asteroid water supply hypothesis even more plausible.”

The sample’s salt crystals are suspected to have existed since the beginning of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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