There has been a long debate on whether the solar system’s water comes from ice ionized during the birth of the solar system, or if it originated before the formation of the solar system and our Sun.
New research finds that water found in our oceans, in meteorites and frozen craters formed before the solar system came into shape. The study was published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
Professor Tim Harries, who was part of the research team, calls the discovery “an important step forward in our quest to find out if life exists on other planets. We know that water is vital for the evolution of life on Earth, but it was possible that the Earth’s water originated in the specific conditions of the early solar system, and that those circumstances might occur infrequently elsewhere.”
Harries added, “By identifying the ancient heritage of Earth’s water, we can see that the way in which our solar system was formed will not be unique, and that exoplanets will form in environments with abundant water. Consequently, it raises the possibility that some exoplanets could house the right conditions, and water resources, for life to evolve.”
How did the research team even figure this out? They looked at ‘heavy water’ ices, ice with more water made from deuterium than hydrogen. With “sophisticated modelling techniques,” the team showed that the excess heavy water came from the environment pre-dating our solar system.
Lead author Ilsedor Cleeves touched on the implications of their find.
“The implication of these findings is that some of the solar system’s water must have been inherited from the Sun’s birth environment, and thus predate the Sun itself. If our solar system’s formation was typical, this implies that water is a common ingredient during the formation of all planetary systems.”
“To date, the Kepler satellite has detected nearly 1,000 confirmed extrasolar planets. The widespread availability of water during the planet-formation process puts a promising outlook on the prevalence of life throughout the galaxy.”