(NewsNation) — Scientists have discovered water vapor around a main-belt comet, leading to potential new insights into the history of water in the solar system.
Scientists using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope successfully detected water vapor around Comet Read, an indication that water can be preserved in that region of the solar system.
Comet Read is a main belt comet, a term used to refer to a sub-class of comets that are located within the main asteroid belt of our solar system, which exists between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Main-belt comets typically have a circular orbit while occasionally exhibiting comet-like behavior.
The main belt is thought to be leftover from the early formation of the solar system. Researchers hope studying objects within the belt can help gain insight into how Earth came to have so much water. Water is essential to the habitability of a planet, and one theory is that the main belt served as a source of Earth’s water.
The discovery of water outgassing on Comet Read provides evidence to support that theory, but it came with a mystery. Data collected did not show any trace of carbon dioxide on the comet. Carbon dioxide typically makes up about 10% of the volatile material in a comet.
It’s possible carbon dioxide burned off Comet Read’s atmosphere due to warm temperatures. Another option is that Comet Read was formed in a warm area of the solar system where carbon dioxide was not available.
Previously, some scientists have doubted objects in the main belt could have ice in their atmosphere because of the belt’s proximity to the sun.
More research is needed to determine if Comet Read is unique or if other objects in the main belt have similar characteristics.