A meteorite could have the answer to the origin of Earth’s water

Londres (CNN) — If you’ve ever wondered where Earth’s water comes from, new research into a meteorite that fell on a family’s front yard in England last year might have the answer.

Researchers from the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, studied a meteorite found in the town of Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire, and discovered that it contained water similar to that found on Earth.

The meteorite landed in an English town in February 2021. Credit: Jonathan E.Jackson/NHM Photo

“It’s a crystalline window into our early solar system,” Luke Daly, study co-author and Professor of Planetary Geoscience at the University of Glasgow, told CNN on Thursday.

The study published this Wednesday in the academic journal Science Advances reveals that alien rocks may have brought vital chemicals, such as water, to our planet billions of years ago, giving rise to the oceans and all life on Earth.

Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, and the oceans contain about 96.5% of all water, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Images and chemical analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite revealed that it contains around 11% water and 2% carbon by weight, making it the first of its kind found in the UK.

The team, which measured the ratio of hydrogen isotopes in the water, found that it closely resembled the composition of water on Earth, according to a Natural History Museum news release.

Extraterrestrial amino acids were also found in extracts of the rock, making it the strongest evidence that water and organic material reached the planet via asteroids like the one that broke off Winchcombe.

The meteorite was identified as a CM carbonaceous chondrite, a type of stony meteorite that contains a high composition of components that predate the formation of the solar system.

winchcombe meteor water earth

Samples of the Winchcombe meteorite are now on public display at London’s Natural History Museum, Winchcombe Museum and The Wilson Art Gallery in Gloucestshire. Credit: Natural History Museum

The meteorite was recovered 12 hours after landing with the help of the UK Fireball Alliance, an organization whose objective is to recover freshly fallen meteorites in the United Kingdom, so it had very little time to be altered by the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We know that (this means) everything inside is 100% extraterrestrial, including the 11% water it contains,” Daly said.

“Most CM chondrites have ‘Earth-like’ water, but these rocks are altered and degrade within days (or) weeks of being on Earth, so they might only be Earth-like because soaked up rainwater or something similar,” he explained.

Natasha Almeida, curator of meteorites at the Museum of Natural History and co-author of the study, said in a statement Wednesday that the “incredibly fresh specimen will remain one of the most pristine meteorites in collections around the world.”

Daly considers the discovery of the Winchcombe meteorite lucky. Its size of barely a basketball means that if it had traveled at a different speed or at a different angle, it would have all burned up.

He also states that it was a great collaboration from the UK Cosmochemistry Network who “came together to give their all to the study of this rock.”

Although this work is the first of many being prepared on the meteorite, Daly says it will keep them busy for years. “I’m sure there are many more stories and secrets that this very special stone keeps,” she added.

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