Where did the Earth’s water come from? This meteorite may hold the answer

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If you’ve ever wondered where water comes from on Earth, new research on a meteorite that landed in a family’s front yard in England last year might just have the answer.

Researchers from the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Glasgow in Scotland studied a meteorite found in the town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, to discover that it contained water similar to that found on Earth.

“It’s a crystal clear window into our early solar system,” Luke Daly, co-author of the study and lecturer in Planetary Geosciences at the University of Glasgow, told CNN on Thursday.

Billions of years ago, the study, published in the journal Science Advances, reveals that extraterrestrial rocks may have brought biochemical components — such as water — to our planet, creating the oceans and all life on Earth.

Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, with oceans holding about 96.5% of all water, according to the US Geological Survey.

Imaging and chemical analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite – as it became known – revealed it to contain 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 water, found that it is very similar to the composition of water on Earth, According to a press release from the Natural History Museum.

Extracts of rocks have also found extraterrestrial amino acids, making them the strongest evidence that water and organic matter were delivered to the planet by asteroids like the one Winchcombe broke away from.

The meteorite has been identified as a CM carbonaceous chondrite, which is a type of stony meteorite that has a high composition of pre-solar system components.

Retrieved within 12 hours of landing with the help of the UK Fireball Alliance, an organization aiming to recover newly fallen meteorites in the UK, it had little time to alter Earth’s atmosphere.

“We know (that is to say) that everything inside it is 100% extraterrestrial including 11% of the water it contains,” said Daly.

“Most CM chondrites contain ‘earth-like’ water, but these rocks change and decompose within days (or) weeks of being on Earth, so they could be earth-like because they absorbed rainwater or something,” he explained.

“The incredibly new specimen will remain one of the most pristine meteorites in collections around the world,” Natasha Almeida, Curator of Meteorites at the Natural History Museum and co-author of the study, said in a statement Wednesday.

Daly called the Winchcombe meteorite a “lucky” find. It was only the size of a basketball, he said, so if it were going at a different speed or at a different angle, it would all be scorched, adding that it was a great collaboration for the UK’s Cosmic Chemistry Network that “got together to throw in the kitchen sink when studying this rock.”

While this paper is the first of many working on the meteorite, Daly said it will keep them busy for years to come. “There are certainly many stories and secrets kept in this special stone,” he added.

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