Comet Sheds Light Into The Origins Of The Solar System, Providing Clues About Its Earliest History


Samples of comets are allowing scientists to learn more about the formation of the solar system. Using comet dust that was gathered from NASA's Stardust mission in 2006, these particles date from the beginning of the solar system.

These samples could give more data that dates from that time and gives a bigger clue as to how it formed.

Wild 2

Current knowledge about the beginning of the solar system is scarce. What is known so far is that at the beginning of the solar system, there was only an early protosolar disk of gas and dust which eventually became the solar system. Comet dust was gathered from Comet 81P/Wild, also known as Wild 2.

Wild 2 came from the Kuiper Belt that is beyond the orbit of Neptune. Scientists don't have many samples from objects that originate in the Kuiper Belt. This is a comparison to the amount of material collected from asteroids that comes from meteorites, and from the Moon that was collected from the Apollo missions.

Material from further out in the solar system is more primitive according to Andrew Westphal, who wrote a paper on the importance of stardust science. He stresses that material that comes from comets has been in a deep-freeze for 4.6 billion years. This allows scientists to gather more information to create a picture of what the solar system was like during its early years.

Water On Comets

One of the more important aspects of this study is to determine if the water was present in Wild 2. Water that is found on comets is different than the water that is found on Earth. Evidence shows that water present on comets has a variable deuterium to hydrogen ratios.

This means that the water that is present on Earth was not delivered by comets. It is speculated that it was asteroids that were responsible for transporting water to Earth. Scientists want to study more comets that originate from the Kuiper Belt is to get a better picture of the origin of the water.

Researchers were not able to find molecules with low boiling points such as water. Such molecules didn't survive being caught in the aerogel and aluminum foil collector that was used to gather the comet dust.

To look for water in the space dust, scientists searched for phyllosilicates. These are clays that are able to preserve water in them. There were no phyllosilicates found by the scientists.

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