Feeds

Water like that of Earth's oceans found in comet

The seas may have arrived from the sky

Boost IT visibility and business value

Ice found in a comet supports the theory that the earth's oceans were delivered to the planet in the form of crashing comets.

It is thought that the Earth's oceans formed about 8 million years after the planet did, and scientists have long suggested comets as a cause.

Many comets contain ice - unlike asteroids which are largely rock and metal - but the water contained in the Hartley 2 comet is particularly interesting to scientists because it has the same isotopic composition as the water found in our oceans.

Both have similar D/H ratios. The D/H ratio is the proportion of deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, in the water. A deuterium atom is a hydrogen with an extra neutron in its nucleus.

This is the first time ocean-like water has been detected in a comet.

“We were all surprised,” said University of Michigan astronomy professor Ted Bergin, who helped make the discovery.

“Life would not exist on Earth without liquid water, and so the question of how and when the oceans got here is a fundamental one,” said Professor Bergin.

“It’s a big puzzle, and these new findings are an important piece.”

The discovery comes from the HiFi, the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared on the Herschel Space Observatory. It has analysed six other comets but only the ice from Hartley 2 matched the earth's water make-up. Hartley 2 comes from the Kuiper belt, not too far beyond Pluto. The other five come from the far-off Oort Cloud. The Kuiper belt is about 30 times farther from the Sun than the Earth is, the the Oort cloud is more than 5,000 times farther out.

The paper Ocean-like water in the Jupiter-family comet 103P/Hartley 2 is published in the journal Nature. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.