Dust – it is the dirty substance most famous for making people sneeze and alerting house guests to the fact that something has either not been used or cleaned recently. It turns out that the actuality everyone loves to hate is good for more than just making allergies go haywire.
Thanks to a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it has been brought to light that small trace amounts of water and organic materials have been riding along with specs of dust. These tiny ingrains, which are leftover from the birth of the solar system, have been attached to the bodies of comets and meteors, which then in turn, travel across galaxies and solar systems impacting themselves onto planets and moons. It is not unlikely to believe that the origins of water and organic life on Earth and potentially Mars, as new discoveries from the Curiosity rover continue to show, began from dust particles that were attached to meteorites, which struck the planet’s surface. In fact, as new research suggests, it is increasingly likely that this is exactly what happened.
Of course, if so many comets that are carrying dust are raining water and organic life down onto planets, then why have not astronomers and NASA discovered a galaxy teeming with all sorts of life? The simplest answer is because not all planets have conditions appropriate to support life. A planet that does have the right conditions must be neither too close nor too far away from its sun. This area that can support life is called the “habitable zone” or the “Goldilocks zone.” However, it takes far more than simply a sitting within the Goldilocks zone to make a planet habitable. The size and heat of the sun affects the atmospheric conditions of the planet in question, as does the mass of the planet itself. Changing planetary conditions can also affect the whether planets can sustain water, which is why scientists believe that an ancient lake may have existed on Mars 3.6 billion years ago but does not exist there today.
Even more data suggests that water could exist kilometers below a planet’s surface even if the surface itself does not sustain life. When dust carrying water and organic life does makes its way to such a planet, there is a chance that more than just allergies could arise from a few million years of it being left there and allowing evolution to play its role.
It has already long been suspected that water molecules have piggy-backed their way to Earth and other planets within solar systems by riding on the backs of comets. This new information is like an expansion to this existing idea. One that provides better insight as to how exactly water makes its first appearance on a new planet. With a better understanding of how these essential building blocks to life start, it provides a deeper insight into the origins of life within the universe.
Dust evidently does do more good than harm. The occasional sneeze and itchy nose that stems from having one’s allergies set off might just be worth all the unpleasantness because without dust, a different and far less interesting Earth might exist today.
By Jonathan Holowka