Life on Earth Might Be ‘a Comet Like Time Capsule Catalina’
In the early years of planet Earth, while our world was still forming, icy comets were the main sources of carbon that could have started life, according to a new study.
Minnesota University astronomers used infrared observations of Comet Catalina as it entered the inner Solar system in 2016 to better understand the structure of these icy visitors and their role in the development of planet Earth.
The team was able to detect a significant amount of carbon in the tail of the comet, a chemical as far as we know, essential for life.
The rocky planets in the early days were hot enough for life to begin and too hot to hold carbon, so they had to get the building blocks of life from somewhere.
“Carbon-rich comets could be an important source of providing this essential element for life as we know it,” says Charles Woodward, author of the study.
In early 2016, Comet Catalina arrived into the inner Solar system from the Oort cloud, a region at the very edge of the Solar system and the birthplace of comets.
It was briefly visible to stargazers on Earth before it flew out of the Sun and disappeared from our system forever and entered interstellar space.
Among the many observatories that captured the image of this comet that emerged near the Big Dipper was NASA’s SOFIA Observatory.
SOFIA uses one of its unique infrared instruments to create carbon in the dusty glow of the comet’s tail. He was able to pick a familiar fingerprint.
The team explained that this discovery helped planetary scientists to further explain the origins of life on Earth because ‘comets that look like Catalina’ could be an important source of carbon ‘during the early formation of the Solar system.
Using the new results of SOFIA, a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, the US team was able to better understand the impact these comets might have had when planets like Earth and Mars first began forming billions of years ago.
Comet Catalina and others of this species have such long orbits that they arrive at our celestial gate almost unchanged.
This makes them frozen over time effectively. From the earliest days of the solar system until the planets came to the world where they are today, it is almost the same substance as when they first started forming.
It ‘time capsule’ It offers rare opportunities for researchers to learn about the early Solar system from which they came from and how our own planet might have formed.
SOFIA’s infrared observations were able to capture the composition of the dust and gas that evaporated from the comet, forming its tail.
Observations showed that Comet Catalina was rich in carbon, suggesting that it formed in the outer regions of the primitive Solar system that contained a reservoir of carbon that could be important for seeding life on Earth, Mars, and Venus.
Although carbon is an important component of life, it cannot survive over time in a very hot world.
The early Earth and other terrestrial planets of the inner Solar system were so hot at the time of their formation that elements such as carbon were lost or depleted.
While cooler gas giants like Jupiter and Neptune could support carbon in the outer Solar system, Jupiter’s jumbo size may have prevented carbon from mixing back into the inner Solar system by gravity.
This prompted the US team to examine data from the comet to investigate how the inner rocky planets evolved into carbon-rich worlds today.
Researchers speculate that a small change in Jupiter’s orbit allowed the small, early precursors of comets to mix carbon from the outer regions to the inner regions, where it was incorporated into planets such as Earth and Mars.
Comets came from the outer edges of the carbon-rich Solar system, were pulled from their large orbits by Jupiter’s tremendous gravitational force and pushed towards the inner, rocky worlds closer to the sun.
The authors of the study said that the carbon-rich composition of Comet Catalina helps explain how planets formed in hot, carbon-poor regions of the early solar system evolved into planets with the life-supporting element.
“All terrestrial worlds are subject to the effects of comets and other small bodies carrying carbon and other elements,” Woodward added.
We are approaching to fully understand how these effects on early planets may have catalyzed life.
Additional observations of new comets are needed to find out if there are many carbon-rich comets in the Oort Cloud that would further support the fact that comets provide carbon and other life-supporting elements to terrestrial planets.
The mobility of SOFIA, the world’s largest airborne observatory, allows it to quickly observe newly discovered comets as they pass through the solar system.
Findings of this study Published in the Planetary Science Journal.
Compiled by: Feyza ÇETİNKOL
/ ‘A Comet Like Time Capsule Catalina’ Could Have Started Life on Earth /
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