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Opal-Studded Meteorite Hints at Earth's Water Origin

Jun 28, 2016 07:22 AM EDT
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New evidence suggest that asteroids can carry water to Earth. A meteorites embedded with opal of extra-terrestrial origin was found in Antarctica.
(Photo : George Varros and Dr. Peter Jenniskens/NASA/Getty Images)

Gems are rare and considered luxurious on Earth, but how about gems that did not actually originate from Earth?

A recent study revealed what could be the rarest gem found on Earth. In Antarctica, meteorite studded with pieces of opal was discovered, but it is believed that the opal-studded space rock also came from outside the Earth.

Opal is a gem associated with water and finding an opal-studded meteorite supports the idea that meteorites and asteroids delivered water to Earth, a pre-requisite to life.

"This is more evidence that meteorites and asteroids can carry large amounts of water ice," lead author Hilary Downes said in a statement published by

The findings were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting on June 27. According to experts, opal is composed of 30 percent water and silica, which is also a component of sand. But opal hasn't been found on any asteroid yet. This new discovery says a lot how water may have reached the Earth to seed life.

Meteorite EET 83309 found in the Antarctica was composed of thousands of broken pieces. The meteorite found is believed to be part of an asteroid but had already been exposed to the radiation from the sun and other cosmic sources.

From the study, they found out that there were impacts on the surface of the asteroid. Becuase of this, the researchers recognized the possibility that it brought to Earth other materials from the Solar System.

"The Pieces of opal we have found are either broken fragments or they are replacing other minerals. Our evidence shows that the opal formed before the meteorite was blasted off from the surface of the parent asteroid and sent into space, eventually to land of Earth in Antarctica," Profession Hillary Downes of Birkbeck College London said in a press release.

So could an asteroid brought to Earth enough water ice to start life on the planet? Although there are consequences of an impact of a humungous asteroid on Earth, the researchers suggest that billions of years ago the asteroids may have brought water to Earth contributing to life people know today.

To study the composition of the opal, the team used varied scientific techniques. And after careful scrutiny, they were able to conclude that the opal is of extra-terrestrial descent and did not only manifest during the meteorite's stay in the Antarctic.


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