JWST Unravels Water on the Main Belt Comet for the First Time! Could This Solve Earth's Watery Origin Mystery?

In a ground-breaking revelation, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), heralded as the most advanced observatory in the world, has made a remarkable discovery of water on a comet situated within the main asteroid belt.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), renowned as the world's most powerful observatory, has made an extraordinary discovery by detecting the presence of water on a comet within the main asteroid belt.

Situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, the main asteroid belt encircles the sun. Notably, scientists have recently achieved a ground-breaking feat by detecting indications of water within this region, potentially offering valuable insights into a perplexing puzzle much closer to home: the origin of Earth's water.

Author’s statement

"Our water-soaked world, teeming with life and unique in the universe as far as we know, is something of a mystery; we’re not sure how all this water got here. Understanding the history of water distribution in the solar system will help us to understand other planetary systems and if they could be on their way to hosting an Earth-like planet," Stefanie Milam, a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Scientists operating the Near-Infrared Spectrograph instrument on the Webb telescope made a remarkable discovery, detecting water vapour on Comet 238P/Read. However, what has astounded astronomers is the absence of carbon dioxide on this particular comet, which sets it apart from others.

Comet 238P/Read, known for its recurring coma, tail, and halo, played a crucial role in confirming the existence of comets within the asteroid belt. This finding challenged the previous belief that comets primarily inhabit the Kuiper belt, located at the outer reaches of the solar system beyond Neptune's orbit.

Ice preservation confirmed

For years, scientists have entertained the possibility of water ice being preserved within the comparatively warmer asteroid belt, located within Jupiter's orbit. The recent validation of this speculation has come to fruition with the ground-breaking observations of Comet Read by the Webb telescope. Michael Kelley, the study's lead author and an esteemed astronomer, affirms, "With Webb's observations of Comet Read, we can now provide evidence that water ice from the early solar system can indeed be conserved in the asteroid belt."

According to a recently published study in the journal Nature, the presence of main-belt comets suggests the existence of water ice within the asteroid belt. However, despite extensive observations using the world's largest telescopes, no gas emissions have been detected around these celestial bodies.

Comet's missing CO2 puzzle

The absence of carbon dioxide, a significant component accounting for approximately 10 percent of a comet's volatile material, emerged as a notable surprise in the observation. Typically, susceptible to vaporization due to the sun's heat, carbon dioxide was found to be missing from this particular comet. The scientific team speculates that while the comet likely contained carbon dioxide during its formation, it has since dissipated due to elevated temperatures.

"These objects in the asteroid belt are small and faint, and with Webb, we can finally see what is going on with them and draw some conclusions. Do other main belt comets also lack carbon dioxide? Either way, it will be exciting to find out," Heidi Hammel, lead for Webb’s Guaranteed Time Observations for solar system objects, added.