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New Theory Suggests Earth’s Water Originated from Space Absorption

The formation of Earth might have occurred more rapidly than previously assumed, originating from small millimeter-sized pebbles that accumulated within a few million years. The novel theory proposes that instead of water being delivered to Earth solely by icy comets, our planet obtained this essential component for life by absorbing water from its surrounding space environment. This theory carries significant implications for the exploration of life beyond our solar system, suggesting that the prevalence of watery and habitable planets around other stars could be more common than current theories suggest.

According to the team proposing this theory, approximately 4.5 billion years ago, when the sun was in its early stages and surrounded by a disk of gas and dust called a proto-planetary disk, forming planets rapidly absorbed tiny dust particles once they reached a specific size. This “vacuuming up” of disk material ensured Earth’s supply of water. Isaac Onyett, a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Star and Planet Formation, University of Copenhagen, explained that as the dust was drawn in, it also captured a portion of the ice present in the disk, contributing to the water content during Earth’s formation, eliminating the reliance on a fortuitous event delivering water much later.

Martin Schiller, a geochemist from the University of Copenhagen and a member of the research team, stated, “People have debated how planets form for a long time. One theory is that planets are formed by the gradual collision of bodies, progressively increasing their size over 100 million years. In this scenario, the presence of water on Earth would need a sort of chance event.” One such chance event could be the bombardment of the planet with icy comets towards the end stages of its formation. However, Schiller emphasized that if Earth’s formation relied solely on this chance event, it would be considered fortunate to have water on our planet, significantly reducing the likelihood of water being present on planets outside our solar system.

The researchers arrived at their new theory by analyzing silicon isotopes as indicators to measure planet formation mechanisms and associated timescales. Through the examination of isotopic compositions in over 60 meteorites and planetary bodies, they established a connection between Earth and other rocky planets within our solar system.

Based on their accumulated knowledge, the scientists postulate that with the diminished reliance on chance events, the existence of abundant water on other planets becomes more probable. Martin Bizzarro, a professor at the Globe Institute and a member of the team, remarked, “This theory would predict that whenever you form a planet like Earth, you will have water on it. If you go to another planetary system where there is a planet orbiting a star the size of the sun, then the planet should have water if it is in the right distance.” This insight opens up intriguing possibilities for the prevalence of water on planets beyond our own.

The research is described in a paper published on Wednesday (June 14)  in the journal Nature. 

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