A tiny fragment of a comet has been found sealed inside a meteorite that formed billions of years ago in the distant solar system.
Scientists reveal that this ancient fragment contains the building blocks of a comet, which could unlock clues and new knowledge on the evolution of the solar system.
An Ancient Material Inside A Primitive Meteorite
In a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, researchers share their insight on the mysterious building blocks of comet encased in a meteorite billions of years old.
Meteorites are space rocks that have already made their way into Earth, pieces of much larger asteroids or comets that broke apart from collisions and survived past the planet's atmosphere. Different meteorites are made up of different elements, depending on the area of the solar system they originated from.
One primitive class of meteorites that have been identified is called carbonaceous chondrites, which are believed to have formed beyond Jupiter. A pristine rock known as LaPaz Icefield 02342 is an example of this type of meteorite, found in the LaPaz Icefield in Antarctica.
The real surprise is inside the undamaged meteorite: a carbon-rich fragment that is only about one-tenth of a milimeter across. With chemical and isotopic analysis, the researchers show that this strange material inside the comet likely originated from the icy regions in the outer solar system. It's the same place where objects in the Kuiper Belt and many comets formed.
Just approximately 3 million to 3.5 million years after the formation of the solar system, this small fragment was caught and encased inside the asteroid from which the meteorite LaPaz Icefield 02342 came from.
Precious Discovery Reveals Clues About Early Solar System
Sealed and protected inside an immaculately preserved meteorite, the comet fragment offers scientists a window into the early solar system.
"Because this sample of cometary building block material was swallowed by an asteroid and preserved inside this meteorite, it was protected from the ravages of entering Earth's atmosphere," Larry Nittler, lead author from Carnegie Institution for Science, explains in a press release from the institution. "It gave us a peek at material that would not have survived to reach our planet's surface on its own, helping us to understand the early Solar System's chemistry."
One of the interesting details is how the material traveled from the outer edges of the solar system where it originated from to a region beyond Jupiter where the asteroid that swallowed it came from.
The team's findings suggest that the drag from surrounding gas caused particles like the ancient material to migrate, which is a valuable clue about the solar system's architecture in those early years of planet formation.