One of the biggest questions regarding our planet Earth is, how did Earth develop its oceans, and whether other planets have the ability to create oceans themselves. With the use and help of space exploration, we might be able to find the answers. However, some answers come crashing to Earth in strokes of celestial inspiration. The Whinchcombe meteorite made it through Earth's atmosphere to land in Gloucestershire, England in 2021 and is already providing more answers than expected. Extra-terrestrial water and organic compounds that shed light on the origin of Earth’s oceans were discovered in the meteorite.
The meteorite is a chunk of 4.6 billion-year-old space rock, and is believed to have likely been dislodged from an asteroid near Jupiter and traveled to Earth within the last million years. Scientists were able to quickly recover and preserve the meteorite for study, and published their findings in Science Advances. The meteorite is, surprisingly, a rare CM carbonaceous chondrite and contains approximately two percent carbon. The meteorite contained several interesting compounds. Chemical analysis demonstrated the meteorite has a composition of 11% extra-terrestrial water, a hydrogen isotope ratio similar to our Earth's water, and instead of containing liquid, the meteorite’s water is bound in compounds formed near the origin of the solar system.
The meteorite also contains extra-terrestrial amino acids. These prebiotic molecules are essential to life. These findings further reinforce the scientific belief that carbonaceous asteroids delivered some of the ingredients of life to Earth.
Dr. Luke Daly, of the Planetary Geoscience at the University of Glasgow and author of the paper, says in a statement, “One of the biggest questions asked of the scientific community is how did we get here? This analysis on the Winchcombe meteorite gives insight into how the Earth came to have water–the source of so much life. Researchers will continue to work on this specimen for years to come, unlocking more secrets into the origins of our solar system.”
Dr. Ashley King of the Natural History Museum and another author, adds, “The rapid retrieval and curation of Winchcombe make it one of the most pristine meteorites available for analysis, offering scientists a tantalising glimpse back through time to the original composition of the solar system 4.6 billion-years-ago.”