Scientists Say Space Dust Carries Water and Organic Compounds

Posted on January 28, 2014

Water for on space weathered amorphous rims on interplanetary dust particles

Scientists say space dust can deliver water and organic compounds to Earth and other terrestrial planets. The surfaces of tiny interplanetary dust particles are space-weathered by the solar wind. Scientists say this weathering causing amorphous rims to form on the surface of the dust particles. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen in the rims to form tiny water-filled vesicles - the blue colored spots on the dust particles pictured above.

Scientists say they detected water produced by solar-wind irradiation in the space-weathered rims on silicate minerals in interplanetary dust particles using a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope. They were also able to conclude that the water forms from the interaction of solar wind hydrogen ions (H+) with oxygen in the silicate mineral grains.

Hope Ishii, an associate researcher in the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) at the University of Hawaii - Manoa SOEST and co-author of the study, says in a release, "It is a thrilling possibility that this influx of dust has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life on Earth and possibly Mars. Perhaps more exciting, interplanetary dust, especially dust from primitive asteroids and comets, has long been known to carry organic carbon species that survive entering the Earth's atmosphere, and we have now demonstrated that it also carries solar-wind-generated water. So we have shown for the first time that water and organics can be delivered together."

The research was published here in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Image: John Bradley, UH SOEST/ LLNL


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