By studying ancient meteorite fragments, scientists can gain important information about how our solar system formed eons ago. Now, in a new study, researchers have discovered liquid water rich in carbon dioxide inside a meteorite from an asteroid that formed 4.6 billion years ago . This finding suggests that the meteorite’s parent asteroid formed beyond Jupiter’s orbit before being transported into the inner solar system and provides key evidence for the dynamics of the formation of the solar system.
Water is plentiful in our solar system. Even outside of our own planet, scientists have detected ice on the moon, in Saturn’s rings and in comets, liquid water on Mars and under the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and traces of water vapor in the hot atmosphere of Venus. Studies have shown that water plays an important role in the early evolution and formation of the solar system. To learn more about this role, planetary scientists searched for evidence of the presence of liquid water in extraterrestrial materials such as meteorites, most of which originate from asteroids formed early in the solar system’s history.
Scientists have even found water in the form of hydroxyls and molecules in meteorites against the background of hydrated minerals, which are basically solids with ionic or molecular water embedded in them. Dr Akira Tsuchiyama, Visiting Research Professor at Ritsumeikan University, Says: “Scientists further expect that liquid water will remain as fluid inclusions in minerals which precipitate in aqueous fluid.” (or, to put it simply, form from drops of water with various other things dissolved inside). Scientists have found such inclusions of liquid water inside salt crystals located in a class of meteorites called ordinary chondrites, which make up the vast majority of all meteorites found on Earth although the salt actually comes from other more primitive parent objects.
Professor Tsuchiyama and his colleagues wanted to know if inclusions of liquid water are present in a form of calcium carbonate called calcite in a class of meteorites called “carbonaceous chondrites”, which originate from asteroids that formed very early in the world. the history of solar. system. So they looked at samples from the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, a carbonaceous chondrite from an asteroid formed 4.6 billion years ago. The results of their investigation, led by Professor Tsuchiyama, can be found in an article recently published in Scientific progress.
The researchers used advanced microscopy techniques to examine the Sutter’s Mill meteorite fragments, and they found a calcite crystal containing an inclusion of nanoscale aqueous fluid containing at least 15% carbon dioxide. This finding confirms that calcite crystals in ancient carbonaceous chondrites may indeed contain not only liquid water, but also carbon dioxide.
The presence of liquid water inclusions in the Sutter’s Mill meteorite has interesting implications regarding the origins of the meteorite’s parent asteroid and the beginnings of solar system history. The inclusions likely occurred due to the formation of the parent asteroid with chunks of frozen water and carbon dioxide inside. This would require the asteroid to have formed in a part of the solar system that is cold enough for water and carbon dioxide to freeze, and these conditions would place the formation site well outside of Earth’s orbit, possibly beyond even from the orbit of Jupiter. The asteroid must then have been transported to internal regions of the solar system where fragments could later collide with planet Earth. This hypothesis is consistent with recent theoretical studies on the evolution of the solar system which suggest that asteroids rich in small volatile molecules like water and carbon dioxide formed beyond Jupiter’s orbit before be transported to areas closer to the sun. The most likely cause of the asteroid’s transport in the inner solar system would be the gravitational effects of the planet Jupiter and its migration.
In conclusion, the discovery of water inclusions in a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite from early solar system history is an important achievement for planetary science. Professor Tsuchiyama proudly notes, “This achievement shows that our team was able to detect a tiny fluid trapped in a mineral 4.6 billion years ago.”
By obtaining chemical snapshots of the contents of an ancient meteorite, the work of his team can provide important insight into the processes at work in the early history of the solar system.
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