A family of comets reopens the debate about the origin of Earth's water

phys.org | 1/3/2019 | Staff
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Where did the Earth's water come from? Although comets, with their icy nuclei, seem like ideal candidates, analyses have so far shown that their water differs from that in our oceans. Now, however, an international team, bringing together CNRS researchers at the Laboratory for Studies of Radiation and Matter in Astrophysics and Atmospheres (Paris Observatory - PSL/CNRS/ Sorbonne University/University of Cergy-Pontoise) and the Laboratory of Space Studies and Instrumentation in Astrophysics (Paris Observatory - PSL/CNRS/Sorbonne University/University of Paris), has found that one family of comets, the hyperactive comets, contains water similar to terrestrial water. The study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on May 20, 2019, is based in particular on measurements of comet 46P/Wirtanen carried out by SOFIA, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

According to the standard theory, the Earth is thought to have formed from the collision of small celestial bodies known as planetesimals. Since such bodies were poor in water, Earth's water must have been delivered either by a larger planetesimal or by a shower of smaller objects such as asteroids or comets.

Source - Water - Researchers - Ratios1 - Ratio

To trace the source of terrestrial water, researchers study isotopic ratios1, and in particular the ratio in water of deuterium to hydrogen, known as the D/H ratio (deuterium is a heavier form of hydrogen). As a comet approaches the sun, its ice sublimes, forming an atmosphere of water vapour that can be analysed remotely. However, the D/H ratios of comets measured so far have generally been twice to three times that of ocean water, which implies that comets only delivered around 10% of the Earth's water.

When comet...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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