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Earth’s water may have been inherited from material similar to enstatite chondrite meteorites

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Science  28 Aug 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6507, pp. 1110-1113
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba1948

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An unexpected source of Earth's water

The abundances of Earth's chemical elements and their isotopic ratios can indicate which materials formed Earth. Enstatite chondrite (EC) meteorites provide a good isotopic match for many elements but are expected to contain no water because they formed in the hot inner Solar System. This would require Earth's water to be from a different source, such as comets. Piani et al. measured hydrogen contents and deuterium/hydrogen ratios (D/H) in 13 EC meteorites (see the Perspective by Peslier). They found far more hydrogen than is commonly assumed, with D/H close to that of Earth's mantle. Combining these data with cosmochemical models, they show that most of Earth's water could have formed from hydrogen delivered by EC meteorites.

Science, this issue p. 1110; see also p. 1058

Abstract

The origin of Earth’s water remains unknown. Enstatite chondrite (EC) meteorites have similar isotopic composition to terrestrial rocks and thus may be representative of the material that formed Earth. ECs are presumed to be devoid of water because they formed in the inner Solar System. Earth’s water is therefore generally attributed to the late addition of a small fraction of hydrated materials, such as carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which originated in the outer Solar System where water was more abundant. We show that EC meteorites contain sufficient hydrogen to have delivered to Earth at least three times the mass of water in its oceans. EC hydrogen and nitrogen isotopic compositions match those of Earth’s mantle, so EC-like asteroids might have contributed these volatile elements to Earth’s crust and mantle.

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