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If you’ve ever wondered where water on Earth comes from, new research into a meteorite that landed in the front yard of a family in England last year may have the answer.
Researchers from London’s Natural History Museum and the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, studied a meteorite found in the town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, to find that it contained water similar to that found on Earth.
“It’s a crystal-clear window into our early solar system,” Luke Daly, co-author of the study and a lecturer in planetary geosciences at the University of Glasgow, told CNN on Thursday.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, reveals that alien rocks may have brought vital chemical components — such as water — to our planet billions of years ago, giving rise to the oceans and all life on Earth.
According to the US Geological Survey, about 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and oceans contain about 96.5% of all water.
Imaging and chemical analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite – as it has come to be known – revealed it to be about 11% water and 2% carbon, making it the first of its kind to be found in the UK.
The team, who measured the ratio of hydrogen isotopes in the water, found that it closely resembled the composition of water on Earth, according to a Natural History Museum press release.
Extracts from the rock also found extraterrestrial amino acids, making this the strongest evidence that water and organic matter were delivered to the planet by asteroids like the one Winchcombe broke away from.
The meteorite was identified as a CM carbonaceous chondrite, a type of stony meteorite that contains a high composition of components that predate the solar system.
Recovered within 12 hours of landing with the help of the UK Fireball Alliance, an organization focused on recovering recently fallen meteorites in the UK, it had very little time to be altered by Earth’s atmosphere.
“We know (this means) that everything in it is 100% alien, including the 11% water it contains,” Daly said.
“Most CM chondrites have ‘Earth-like’ water, but these rocks change and degrade within days (or) weeks of being on Earth, and so they could just be Earth-like because they absorbed rainwater or something,” he explained .
Natasha Almeida, curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum and co-author of the study, said in a statement Wednesday that the “incredibly fresh specimen will remain one of the most pristine meteorites in collections worldwide.”
Daly called the Winchcombe meteorite a “lucky” find. It was only the size of a basketball, so if it traveled at a different speed or angle it would have all burned up, he said, adding that it was a great collaboration from the UK’s cosmochemistry network that “came together to sink when studying this stone.
While this article is the first of many publications in the works about the meteorite, Daly said it will keep them busy for years to come. “There are certainly many more stories and secrets in this special stone,” he added.