According to a paper published recently, water can form on star dust containing organic material that came from celestial objects that were created when the Solar System was born. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science paper.
The study was co-authored by researchers from University of California-Berkeley, the Laurence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and the University of Hawaii-Manoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). The study explains that interplanetary dust particles (IDP), which are also sometimes referred to as “star dust,” constantly rain down on planets and other worlds in our Solar System.
Researchers say that star dust is often bombarded with molecules of hydrogen contained in the solar wind. The ions then affect the order of atoms that make up the silicate mineral crystal, leaving behind oxygen. The oxygen then is able to react with the hydrogen to create water molecules. Combined with organic materials, the dust will then carry all the necessary building blocks of life.
Associate researcher and co-author of the study, Hope Ishii, from UHM SOEST Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP), said that this research creates an exciting possibility that the influx of dust that has been continuing to rain down on celestial objects include both water and the organics of life on Earth and possibly Mars too. Ishii thinks that the same findings would occur for exoplanets and worlds that orbit stars in other systems too. The raw ingredients of dust and hydrogen ions would allow this to happen in any planetary system. Ishii thinks that the implications of this research and findings are potentially huge.
Celestial objects that are airless, like the Moon and asteroids, contain a substantial amount of silicate minerals and they are constantly bombarded with solar wind. This natural abundance of ingredients could generate water which would explain why data often detects OH and preliminary water when researchers study the data collected from these objects. This also explains why water ice is able to be formed in permanently dark areas on the moon.
The most exciting discoveries by researchers was that dust from very primitive asteroids and comets have been known to carry species of organic carbon that are able to survive when entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Now that solar wind is known to carry water, it shows that the water and organics can be delivered to their final destination together.
Rocks and soil brought back from the moon during the Apollo missions showed that the dust’s chemical makeup of the surface layer is changed due to the solar wind. This theory has been around as long as the Apollo missions themselves but whether it does actually produce water is still being debated.
One reason for uncertainty is only very small quantities of water are created and only produced in very specific areas on the thin rims of silicate minerals. Older analytical techniques failed to confirm the presence of water, but more modern equipment such as the transmission electron microscope have detected water produced by the solar wind irradiation.
Ishii says that they were unable to determine exactly how much water was actually delivered to Earth but in no way would they suggest that the delivered water was sufficient to form an ocean.
In the future, the researchers will try to estimate how much water was delivered here on Earth and look more into details around what other organic and inorganic species are present in the water. The research into life being carried by star dust continues.
By Brent Matsalla