Earth's Water Has Been Around Longer Than Our Sun

An illustration of water in our Solar System through time from before the Sun’s birth through the creation of the planets. Image: Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO

Much of our Solar System’s water is likely to have originated as ice which formed in interstellar space, according to study published in the journal Science.

Water is found not just on Earth but on icy comets and moons and in the shadowed basins of Mercury. Mineral samples from meteorites, the Moon and Mars also contain water.

Comets and asteroids provide a natural “time capsule” of the conditions during the early days of the Solar System.

“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,” says Conel Alexander of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington.

“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.”

The findings of the study show that a significant fraction of our Solar System’s water, the most-fundamental ingredient to fostering life, is older than the Sun.

This indicates that abundant, organic-rich interstellar ices should probably be found in all young planetary systems.

The scientists looked at the ratio of hydrogen to its heavy isotope deuterium within water samples to determine its age and where it as formed.

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