The rocks that came together to form Earth might have carried more water than we thought
MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Our planet may have been born wet. When and how Earth got its water is an open question in planetary science. Now an analysis of meteorites from the inner solar system hints that water may have arrived along with the rocks that formed the planet.
According to some models of planet formation, early Earth should have been completely dry: in theory, the young sun was too hot to allow much ice or liquid water to stick to the rocks that eventually formed Earth and the other inner planets.
There is a type of modern meteorite – called an enstatite chondrite – that is similar to those pre-Earth rocks. Because these meteorites were thought to be dry, many researchers figured that Earth’s water was delivered well after its formation by wetter meteorites born further from the sun.
Laurette Piani at the University of Lorraine in France and her colleagues analysed 13 enstatite chondrites and measured their hydrogen content as a proxy for water. They found that the rocks were far wetter than expected, with the equivalent of 0.08 to 0.54 per cent water by weight.
“These meteorites are one of the best analogues we have for Earth’s building blocks, and they are not as dry as we though,” says Piani. “This water was probably in the building blocks over the whole formation process of Earth.”
Based on the team’s measurements, if Earth was built from enstatite chondrites, they could have provided about three times as much water as fills the planet’s oceans now. “If this material provided water to the Earth, it could have also been present in the building blocks of Mercury, Venus and Mars,” says Piani. The planets of the inner solar system could have been chock-full of water from the very beginning.
Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aba1948
More on these topics: