Ancient micrometeoroids carried stardust, water to asteroid 4 Vesta; could have done same for Earth, say scientists

The stardust in asteroid Vesta holds a unique record of ancient galactic material that was delivered to a celestial body far from Earth.


A new study says that much like 'stardust' grains that arrived on Earth inside primitive meteorites, such grains were also delivered to another planet-like body, asteroid 4 Vesta, by micrometeoroids that also carried water.

The results of the study, conducted by researchers from New Washington in St Louis was published in the journal Geochima et Cosmochimica Acta.

Lead author of the study Nan Lio, who is an assistant research professor in physics and the Laboratory for Space Sciences in Arts & Sciences elaborated that much like Earth, Vesta too has a core, mantle and crust. These are features that formed as materials melted, broke apart and coalesced into a single planet-like object. According to Liu, much like Earth, Vesta, which orbits the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter was pummeled by micrometeoroids.

 Ancient micrometeoroids carried stardust, water to asteroid 4 Vesta; could have done same for Earth, say scientists

Researchers found presolar grains in the Kapoeta meteorite, a piece of the surface of asteroid Vesta. Image Credit: Ogliore Lab

Liu, along with Lionel Vacher and Ryan Ogilore studied samples of the Kapoeta meteorite which fell to Earth in 1942 in South Sudan during World War II.

According to a report by Washington University in St Louis' website The Source, the research team focused on small, dark inclusions in Kapoeta that seemed out of place.

“They look completely different from surrounding material,” Liu said, adding that the material turned out to be microscopic meteoroids, less than 100 microns across which is smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

Using a mass-spectrometer microscope, Liu was able to detect the stardust, which has a very different isotopic composition from material that was formed within the solar system.

According to researchers, the stardust in asteroid Vesta holds a unique record of ancient galactic material that was delivered to a celestial body far from Earth.

Vacher and Ogliore studied the chemical make-up of the micrometeoroids and found minerals and textures that were linked to interactions between rock and water from melted ice, the report added.

This led the research team to theorise on how water got on Earth. Speaking about it Vacher said that the research shows that one can transport small micrometeoroids that contain ice to dry bodies that formed without water.

A report in Universe Today mentions that while ancient record of the impact of these micrometeoroids has been erased by weather and tectonic shift, the record from Vesta may help explain how water was delivered to Earth.

“If icy micrometeoroids delivered water to the inner solar system when the Earth was still forming, this could be one way that the Earth ended up with enough water to support life,” Ryan Ogliore, assistant professor of physics and co-author of the paper said.


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