Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Did comets flood Earth’s oceans?


Did the Earth form with water locked into its rocks, which then gradually leaked out over millions of years? Or did the occasional impacting comet provide the Earth’s oceans? The Ptolemy experiment on Rosetta may just find out…

The Earth needed a supply of water for its oceans, and the comets are large celestial icebergs - frozen reservoirs of water orbiting the Sun.

Did the impact of a number of comets, thousands of millions of years ago, provide the Earth with its supply of water? Finding hard scientific evidence is surprisingly difficult.

Ptolemy may just provide the information to understand the source of water on Earth. It is a miniature laboratory designed to analyse the precise types of atoms that make up familiar molecules like water.

Atoms can come in slightly different types, known as isotopes. Each isotope behaves almost identically in a chemical sense but has a slightly different weight because of extra neutrons in its nucleii.

Ian Wright is the principal investigator for Ptolemy, an instrument on Rosetta’s Philae lander. By analysing with Ptolemy the mix of isotopes found in Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, he hopes to say whether comet water is similar to that found in Earth’s oceans. Recent results from the ground-based observation of another comet, called LINEAR, suggested that they probably are the same.

If this is true, then scientists have solved another puzzle. However, if the comets are not responsible for Earth’s oceans, then planetary scientists and geophysicists will have to look elsewhere.

For example, the answer could be closer to home, through processes related to vulcanism. Also, meteorites (chunks of asteroids or comets that fall to Earth) have been found to contain water but it is bound to the minerals and in nothing like the quantity found in comets.

However, since the Earth formed from rocks similar to the asteroids, it is feasible that enough water could have been supplied that way.

If comets did not supply Earth’s oceans then it implies something amazing about the comets themselves. If Ptolemy finds that they are made of extremely different isotopes, it means that they may not have formed in our Solar System at all. Instead, they could be interstellar rovers captured by the Sun’s gravity.

Rosetta, Philae and Ptolemy will either solve one scientific mystery, or open another whole set of new ones.

Guido De Marchi | ESA
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Gas hydrate research: Advanced knowledge and new technologies
23.03.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ

nachricht New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data
22.03.2018 | University of Southampton

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>