Where does water on Earth come from? This meteorite may hold the answer
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If you’ve ever wondered where Earth’s water comes from, new research on a meteorite that landed in a family’s front yard in England last year may have just the answer.
Researchers from the Natural History Museum of London and the University of Glasgow, Scotland, studied a meteorite found in the town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershireto find that it contained water similar to Earth’s.
“This is a crystal-clear window into our early solar system,” Luke Daly, co-author of the study and professor of planetary geoscience at the University of Glasgow, told CNN on Thursday.
Posted in Science Advances journal On Wednesday, the study revealed that alien rocks may have brought vital chemical components — such as water — to our planet billions of years ago, creating the oceans and all life on Earth.
Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, with the oceans containing about 96.5% of all water, according to US Geological Survey.
Imaging and chemical analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite – as it has come to be known – revealed that it contains around 11% water and 2% carbon by weight, making it the first of its kind found in the UK.
The team, which measured the ratio of hydrogen isotopes in the water, found that it closely resembled the composition of water on Earth, according to a press release from the Natural History Museum.
Extracts from the rock also found alien amino acids, making it the strongest evidence yet that water and organic material were delivered to the planet by asteroids like the one Winchcombe broke off from.
The meteorite has been identified as a CM carbonaceous chondrite, a type of stony meteorite that contains a high composition of components that predate the Solar System.
Recovered within 12 hours of landing with the help of the UK Fireball Alliance, an organization that aims to recover freshly fallen meteorites in the UK, it had very little time to be altered by the Earth’s atmosphere.
“We know (this means) that everything inside it is 100 percent alien, including the 11 percent water it contains,” Daly said.
“Most CM chondrites have Earth-like water, but these rocks change and degrade within days (or) weeks of being on Earth, and so they may simply be Earth-like because they absorbed rainwater or something like that,” he explained.
Natasha Almeida, curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum and co-author of the study, said in a statement Wednesday that the “incredibly fresh specimen will remain one of the most pristine meteorites in collections around the world.”
Daly called the Winchcombe meteorite a “lucky” find. It was only about the size of a basketball, so if it went at a different speed or at a different angle, it would all burn up, he said, adding that it was a great collaboration of the UK Space Chemistry Network that “came together to throw the kitchen sink in studying this stone.
Although this paper is the first of many publications in the works on the meteorite, Daly said it will keep them busy for years to come. “There are certainly many more stories and secrets held in this special stone,” he added.