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TechnologyNASA scientists find Earth-like water in passing comet

16:55  24 may  2019
16:55  24 may  2019 Source:   cnet.com

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However, evidence that comets contained the same kind of water found on Earth , good ol' H2O, has been limited. To determine the comet was carrying Such a finding again opens up the debate regarding the origins of Earth 's water . Other comets , originating in the Oort cloud at the edges of the

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NASA scientists find Earth-like water in passing comet© CNET

Comet 46P/Wirtanen may have revealed how the early Earth was seeded with water.

Our search for E.T. in the great, dark forest of the universe has us searching for signs of water. We know how important the stuff is for life to thrive. But closer to home there's a more pressing question: Where did Earth's water come from?

A team of international astronomers have taken a few small steps to answering that question by studying the water found within a near-Earth comet, 46P/Wirtanen.

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The water flows could point Nasa and other space agencies towards the most promising sites to find life on Mars, and to landing spots for future human “Liquid water has been found on Mars.” Some of the earliest missions to Mars revealed a planet with a watery past. Pictures beamed back to Earth in

A comet is an icy, small Solar System body that, when passing close to the Sun, warms and begins to release gases, a process called outgassing.

"We have identified a vast reservoir of Earth-like water in the outer reaches of the solar system," said Darek Lis, lead author of the study, in a statement.

The study, published in Astronomy and Astrophysics Letters on May 20, used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to investigate the so-called Christmas comet, as it made a close approach to Earth in December 2018. The instrument operates out of a specially-designed Boeing 747 up above the clouds, enabling it to see cosmic phenomena with a pair of clearer eyes than some of our ground-based methods.

A long-standing theory posits the Earth's water was delivered by icy comets originating from the outer reaches of the solar system. Comets zip through space full of dust, ice and other chemicals and occasionally, collide with planets. The formation of the Earth likely occurred when small rocky bodies collided with each other -- but these were very water-poor. Thus, the theory suggests that comets may have delivered some of the water that makes up 70% of the planet when they collided with the early Earth.

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Scientists using NASA ’s Hubble Space Telescope have recently discovered that a massive comet - like object 100,000 times bigger than These discoveries are the best evidence yet for a belt of comet - like bodies that are orbiting the white dwarf in a setup similar to our solar system’s Kuiper Belt.

Scientists predict that the water in Earth 's oceans came from water -carrying bodies in the early solar system that collided with our planet, similar to But measuring this ratio is difficult. Ground and space telescopes can study this level of detail in comets only when they pass near Earth , and missions to

However, evidence that comets contained the same kind of water found on Earth, good ol' H2O , has been limited. To determine the comet was carrying "Earth-like" water, SOFIA eyed 46P/Wirtanen and examined the ratio between two different types of water.

The water we know and love, H2O, is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Those hydrogen atoms contain one proton and zero neutrons. That form of water makes up most of the water found on Earth. A less common form of water, "heavy water", is made up of the same atomic structure, but the hydrogen atom contains one proton and one neutron. This form of water is known as deuterium. Studying the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen (D/H ratio) can teach us a little more about its origin.

The D/H ratio in comets usually varies between 1 to 3 times more than the ratio of Earth's oceans, but the astronomers found the ratio in 46P/Wirtanen was basically the same as we see down here on Earth.

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Scientists found that there are about seven times more long-period comets measuring at least 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) across than had been predicted Researchers also observed that in eight months, three to five times as many long-period comets passed by the Sun than had been predicted.

Scientist Jeff Coughlin says “this is the first possibly rocky, habitable planet around a solar-type star.” The planet was found by the Kepler telescope, which searches for possible Earth -twins by observing periodic dips in the brightness of stars as planets pass before them, like the way our moon

Two previous comets have exhibited similar ratios: 103P/Hartley 2 and 45P/H-M-P. Notably, all three are classified as "hyperactive comets", which release water from ice on their surface and in their atmosphere as they heat up on approach to the sun. The team discovered the D/H ratios in all three were related to the water present in their atmosphere. As a result, they believe that all comets might contain Earth-like water locked within their rocky bodies.

Such a finding again opens up the debate regarding the origins of Earth's water. Other comets, originating in the Oort cloud at the edges of the solar system, don't exhibit similar D/H ratios.

Asteroids, which differ to comets in that they are more metallic and rocky, have also been suggested as a source. Of note is the number of asteroids found with Earth-like water in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

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