Objects Destabilized by Jupiter or Saturn May Have First Brought Water to Earth

A lingering question among researchers is: How did water first appear on Earth?

Earth’s neighborhood was quite dry during to the early moments of the universe, according to some studies, which means that somehow, water was brought from other parts of the solar system, such as the outer areas of the asteroid belt lying between Mars and Jupiter. Other studies have found that water on Earth matches the water found in the asteroid belt. But debate remains about how that water was delivered to Earth.

A new paper published in the journal Icarus suggests Earth’s water indeed came from small bodies called planetesimals, which formed in the asteroid belt and the regions around Jupiter and Saturn that lie beyond the belt. The findings were based on computer simulations of the early universe.

“In simple terms, the growing giant planets are like toddlers throwing their food on the walls and the floor,” Sean Raymond, lead author of the study and an astronomer at the University of Bourdeaux, told Seeker.

As planets formed during the early moments of our solar system, Raymond explained, the gas giants destabilized the orbits of nearby planetesimals, stretching their paths from circles to ellipses, which eventually pushes them across the orbits of Jupiter or Saturn.

“The planetesimals rarely collide with the giant planets, but they do come pretty close and get huge gravitational kicks,” Raymond said. “They are flung all over the solar system, and a fraction are deposited on new, stable orbits in the asteroid belt, preferentially in the outer [region of the] belt. Some of them are kicked inward past the asteroid belt to where the rocky planets are growing, seeding them with water.”

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