Science & Technology

Up to half of Earth’s water may come from the solar wind and cosmic dust

Luke Daly, Lecturer of Planetary Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow

Curtin University

Water is essential to life on earth, Some experts say As part of a healthy lifestyle, we all need to drink about 2 liters daily. But where does our water come from beyond the faucet?

It flows from local rivers, reservoirs and aquifers. But where did the water come from? Over time, the Earth circulates water through living things, the atmosphere, rivers, oceans, rocks at your feet, and even deep into the planet.

But what about before that? Where did the earth get water in the first place? Scientists have long sought an answer to this question.

We examined a small fragment of an asteroid – and the rain of protons from the Sun Always producing water For rocks and dust throughout the solar system. In fact, up to half of the Earth’s water was produced this way, and cosmic dust could have fallen and arrived here.

Water puzzle

We know that Earth’s water is likely to have come from space early in the history of our solar system. So what was the primitive delivery service that gave the earth that water?

Water-rich asteroids are now the best candidates for the supply of water and carbon-hydrogen compounds, which together enable our beautiful habitable blue planet full of life.

read more:
Water, water, everywhere in our solar system, what does that mean for life?

However, water from asteroids contains a specific ratio of normal hydrogen to heavier species or isotopes called deuterium. If all of the Earth’s water comes from asteroids, we would expect this to be the same proportion, but because Earth’s water is low in deuterium, the universe needs other sources of low deuterium.

However, in a solar system that is high in hydrogen and has a lower deuterium ratio than Earth, we know only the sun itself. This immerses us a bit, as it is difficult to know how hydrogen in the Earth’s water came from the Sun.

Excitingly, we may finally get the answer to this conundrum.

Asteroid fragment

In 2011, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) dispatched a Hayabusa mission to collect a sample of the asteroid Itokawa and bring it back to Earth. In 2017, we were fortunate to be assigned three very rare mineral particles from the sample, each about the width of a human hair.

Our aim was to study the outer surface of these dust particles in a whole new way to see if they were affected by “space weathering”. This is a combination of processes known to affect all surfaces exposed to the universe, including harmful galactic cosmic rays, micrometeorite collisions, solar radiation, and the solar wind.

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The asteroid Itokawa was a source of dust particles containing an amazing layer of water.

We worked in a huge team of experts from three continents using a relatively new technique called atom probe tomography that analyzes small samples at the atomic level. This allows you to measure the abundance and position of individual atoms and molecules in 3D.

Itokawa A layer rich in oxide molecules (OH, containing one oxygen atom and one hydrogen) and, more importantly, water (H2O, containing two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen) near the surface of the Itokawa particles. I found.

The discovery of this water was very unexpected! From all we know, these minerals from asteroids should have been as dry as bones.

How the solar wind makes water

The most likely source of hydrogen atoms needed to form this water later is the solar wind: hydrogen ions (atoms lacking electrons) flow from the sun through space and then on the surface of dust particles. Stay in.

We tested this theory by firing deuterium ions (deuterium) in the laboratory to simulate sun-wind ions with minerals such as asteroids, which react with mineral particles to steal oxygen atoms and water. Discovered to produce oxides and water.

read more:
Plumbing Depth: Exploring Our Solar System and Beyond Water

The water produced by the solar wind represents a reservoir previously unthinkable in our solar system. In addition, all airless worlds and rock masses that cross the galaxy can be home to slowly renewed water resources powered by the Sun.

This is great news for future manned space exploration. This life-giving water resource can also be split into hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel.

Return to earth

So how does this revelation relate to the origin of the Earth’s water?

When the Earth and its oceans were formed, the solar system was full of objects ranging from kilometer-wide asteroids to micrometer-scale dust particles. Since then, these objects have fallen on our planet (and other planets).

Scaled up from small space-weathered particles, it was estimated that 1 cubic meter of asteroid dust could contain as much as 20 liters of water. So, with all the cosmic dust falling on Earth, a large amount of water from the Sun (less deuterium) would have arrived with heavier water from larger asteroids.

We have calculated that a mixture of water-rich dust and about 50:50 asteroids is a perfect match for the isotopic composition of Earth’s water.

So, while sipping your next glass of water, ponder the strange idea that the Earth has pulled half of that water out of the sun.

read more:
How did the earth get water?Asteroid samples give an amazing answer


Luke Daly is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the United Kingdom. He belongs to the University of Glasgow, Oxford and the University of Sydney.

Professor Martin R. Lee is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the United Kingdom.

Nick Timms and Phil Bland do not work, consult, own shares, or receive funds for companies or organizations that benefit from this article.

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Up to half of Earth’s water may come from the solar wind and cosmic dust Up to half of Earth’s water may come from the solar wind and cosmic dust

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