CNRS: Comets Reopen Debate about Origin of Earth's Water

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CNRS: Comets Reopen Debate about Origin of Earth's Water

Post by bystander » Fri May 24, 2019 2:18 pm

A Family of Comets Reopen the Debate about the Origin of Earth's Water
National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) | 2019 May 23

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 ... has found that one family of comets, the hyperactive comets, contains water similar to terrestrial water. The study ... is based in particular on measurements of comet 46P/Wirtanen carried out by SOFIA ...

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.

To trace the source of terrestrial water, researchers study isotopic ratios, 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 46P/Wirtanen approached the Earth in December 2018 it was analysed using the SOFIA airborne observatory, carried aboard a Boeing aircraft. This was the third comet found to exhibit the same D/H ratio as terrestrial water. Like the two previous comets, it belongs to the category of hyperactive comets which, as they approach the Sun, release more water than the surface area of their nucleus should allow. The excess is produced by ice-rich particles present in their atmosphere. ...

Comet Provides New Clues to Origins of Earth’s Oceans
NASA | JPL-Caltech | Ames | Sophia | 2019 May 23

Terrestrial Deuterium-to-Hydrogen Ratio in Water in Hyperactive Comets ~ Dariusz C. Lis et al
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