Asteroid debris may be the source of water found on Earth and Earth-like planets


Artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star.
Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick

Just as water may have been brought to Earth by asteroids and comets, these celestial bodies are most likely delivering water to planets in other solar systems too, new research published by the Royal Astronomical Society suggests.

Astronomers from the University of Warwick, led by Dr Roberto Raddi of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group, detected a substantial amount of hydrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere of the white dwarf SDSS J1242+5226 – which was surprising, since white dwarfs usually don’t contain hydrogen.

Such large quantities of the two elements are strong evidence that a water-rich exo-asteroid about the size of Ceres smashed into the white dwarf, more or less “delivering” water onto the star. After the asteroid’s crash-collision, the amount of water found on the white dwarf was equivalent to 30-35% of the oceans found on Earth.

The research adds to the growing body of evidence that an asteroid water delivery system could establish environments viable for the formation of life.

  1. http://mnras.oxfordjournals.org/content/450/2/2083
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