New theory on the origin of water on Earth

December 3, 2010
Structure of olivine, a mineral commonly found in interstellar dust clouds, against the Earth

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new theory on the source of terrestrial water has been validated by an international team led by Professor Nora de Leeuw (University College London) using computational research.

Below Professor de Leeuw describes the implications of the breakthrough.

“The origin of water on our planet is not only of interest for our understanding of the evolution of our own planet and life thereon, but even more so for the increasing exploration of other planets within our solar system and the discovery of potential planetary systems in other galaxies.

Having spent half a lifetime teaching his students the accepted versions of the origin of our planetary water, which increasingly did not fit the available evidence, Dr Mike Drake at the University of Arizona suggested an alternative hypothesis: that water was already present at the surfaces of grains when they accreted to form our planet. Although this hypothesis fitted with all available evidence, it would only be feasible if the adhesion of water to the dust grains was sufficiently strong to survive the harsh conditions in the interstellar dust clouds where form.

Computer simulations by myself and colleagues in UCL, Arizona and Muenster on the adhesion of water to a mineral commonly found in the interstellar dust clouds, show that the kind of highly fractal surfaces found on the interstellar dust grains are indeed suitable for the strong retention of water under the extreme temperatures and pressure conditions prevalent in the accretion disk during planetary formation.

This work thus provides very strong evidence that the new hypothesis as to the delivery of water is correct: was indeed present at the birth of our planet Earth rather than a latecomer once the planet had been formed.”

Explore further: Circumstellar Dust Takes Flight in 'The Moth'

More information: Paper online: pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2010/CC/C0CC02312D

Related Stories

Meteorite grains divulge Earth's cosmic roots

June 15, 2009

The interstellar stuff that became incorporated into the planets and life on Earth has younger cosmic roots than theories predict, according to the University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar Philipp Heck and his international ...

Building Planet Earth

October 22, 2009

A new study shows how rocky planets are formed from the manic swirl of gas and dust that surround a young star, and determines what chemical building blocks are used to construct the planets. Understanding the dynamics and ...

Dusty experiments are solving interstellar water mystery

April 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Dust may be a nuisance around the house but it plays a vital role in the formation of the key ingredient for life on Earth - water - according to researchers at Heriot-Watt University. The results from pioneering ...

Water around massive young stars

September 16, 2010

Water is critical to human life, but also plays an important role in the life of stars and their planetary systems. As a gas, water helps to cool collapsing clouds of interstellar material so that they can form new stars.

Cosmic births revealed by disks of dust

November 15, 2010

By carving 'gaps' in the disks of dust that create and enshroud them, newborn planets are giving astronomers clues to locating possible new worlds.

Recommended for you

Findings illuminate animal evolution in protein function

July 27, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond researchers recently teamed up to explore the inner workings of cells and shed light on the 400–600 million years of evolution between humans and early animals ...

New polymer able to store energy at higher temperatures

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University has created a new polymer that is able to store energy at higher temperatures than conventional polymers without breaking down. In their paper published ...

How to look for a few good catalysts

July 30, 2015

Two key physical phenomena take place at the surfaces of materials: catalysis and wetting. A catalyst enhances the rate of chemical reactions; wetting refers to how liquids spread across a surface.

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

6 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Raveon
1 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2010
Or maybe we were a gas midget with lots of hydrogen and oxygen.
StillWind
1 / 5 (7) Dec 03, 2010
More dumb ideas from people who are supporting a disporven paradigm.
Dummy
1 / 5 (1) Dec 04, 2010
I thought it came from comets...
westelca21
not rated yet Dec 05, 2010
So now Computer simulations are replacing real science?

Where have all the real scientists gone?
Sepp
not rated yet Dec 06, 2010
If water (actually hydrogen) is the most abundant element in the universe, some of it is bound to end up on our planet, brought in by the planetary vortex...
jscroft
1 / 5 (1) Dec 06, 2010
Wait... I thought water was provided by some Federal program?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.