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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2002 > Nov > Nov 7

Life Linked To Water From Comets

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose.nul>
Date: Thu, 07 Nov 2002 07:22:34 +0100
Archived: Thu, 07 Nov 2002 12:50:37 -0400
Subject: Life Linked To Water From Comets

Source: The New Zealand Herald




Thursday November 07, 2002

Life linked to icy barrage

07.11.2002 - By SIMON COLLINS


Comets have always been a source of wonder. Now scientists
believe that they may also be a major source of the water that
sustains life.

American scientist Dr Martha Hanner, in Auckland to give a
public lecture tonight, says icy comets that hit the Earth in
its first 500 million years may have brought frozen water from
the outer reaches of space.

The ice would have melted when it hit the Earth, but much of it
would have been captured as steam by the Earth's gravity, giving
rise eventually to rain and forming the oceans.

Water was probably also produced from steam spewing out of
volcanoes. But constant bombardment by comets and asteroids
"could have made a significant part of the water on the surface
of the Earth".

Dr Hanner says it was also possible that some of the complex
carbon-based molecules on comets had been brought to Earth to
help form the building- block molecules from which life

She has worked for 25 years for California's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, a branch of the Californian Institute of Technology
whose main client is the US National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (Nasa).

She is an originator of a small desk-sized robotic spacecraft
called Stardust, which flew close to the asteroid Annefrank this
week on its way to collect dust particles from a comet called
Wild-2 in 2004.

It is due to land in the Utah desert in January 2006 - bringing
back the first extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon.

"We study rocks with telescopes. That is mainly what I do. But
there is only so much you can learn with a spectrometer," Dr
Hanner said.

"A lot of information is in the structure of the particles on a
micron- sized scale [one-thousandth of a millimetre] - what are
the minerals that are present, how they fit together with each
other, whether there is hydrocarbon material, and what is the
form of the carbon.

"We want to see whether some of the structure is what we have
inferred that interstellar gas should look like, and the crystal
structure to tell us what temperature it was formed at."

The solar system took shape out of a formless cloud of tiny
particles 4.5 billion years ago.

Evidence suggests that the Earth, the Moon and all the planets
continued to be hit by comets and other bits of "leftover
debris" for a further 500 million years. Many bits of debris may
have contained water and complex carbon molecules.

However, literally billions of other comets - small
"planetesimals" typically just 5km to 10km across - stayed away
from the planets, and have continued to circle the sun
independently at spans of up to 50 times the distance between
the sun and the Earth.

"Some of us believe that the material that froze into the comets
was actually material that predated the solar system," Dr Hanner

"So we believe the samples [from Comet Wild-2] will be
interstellar dust, or stardust, that is older than the solar
system - at least 5 billion years old."

If the specks from the Stardust spacecraft turn out to contain
frozen water and complex carbon molecules, they will be the kind
of proof that Dr Hanner needs to show that water - and
eventually life - may have come here, at least in part, from
outer space.

* Dr Hanner gives a free lecture on "a new view of our solar
system" in the McGhie Theatre, Auckland College of Education,
Gate 3, Epsom Ave, at 7.30 tonight.

Further reading


Copyright 2002, NZ Herald

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