Image 1 - Comet Found To Contain Ocean-Like Water
October 5, 2011

Comet Found To Contain Ocean-Like Water

According to a new study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, the Earth's ocean may have been created by comets.

Measurements taken from the Herschel Space Observatory show that comet Hartley 2 contains water with the same chemical signature as Earth's oceans.

This comet lies in the Kuiper Belt about 30 to 50 times as far away as the distance between Earth and the sun.

"Our results with Herschel suggest that comets could have played a major role in bringing vast amounts of water to an early Earth," Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and co-author of a new paper, said in a press release.

"This finding substantially expands the reservoir of Earth ocean-like water in the solar system to now include icy bodies originating in the Kuiper Belt."

The scientists believe Earth started out hot and dry, with water becoming part of the planet millions of years later by asteroid and comet impacts.

NASA said in a press release that Herschel's observations of Hartley 2 are the first in-depth look at water in a comet from the Kuiper Belt.

"Herschel detected the signature of vaporized water in this coma and, to the surprise of the scientists, Hartley 2 possessed half as much "heavy water" as other comets analyzed to date," NASA said in a press release.

This was the first time ocean-like water was detected in a comet.  Six other comets Herschel measured in recent years had a different make up than what is in the Earth's oceans.

The astronomers believe Hartley 2 was born in a different part of the solar system than the other six.

"The results show that the amount of material out there that could have contributed to Earth's oceans is perhaps larger than we thought," University of Michigan astronomy professor Ted Bergin said in a press release.


Image 2: This is the comet Hartley, as imaged by NASA's EPOXI spacecraft. Credit: NASA


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