Scientists Bake Meteorites to Understand Atmospheres of Rocky Alien Planets

A team of researchers at University of California Santa Cruz roasted samples of space rocks to analyse the gases released.

Scientists Bake Meteorites to Understand Atmospheres of Rocky Alien Planets

Photo Credit: USC/ Dan Durda/Southwest Research Institute

The early atmospheres of rocky planets are thought to form from gases released from surface of planet

  • Scientists have taken to baking meteorites to release and analyse gases
  • Three meteorites of CM-type carbonaceous chondrites were analysed
  • Models of planetary atmospheres often assume solar abundances

In a recent study, scientists have taken to baking meteorites to release and analyse gases to have a better understanding of early atmosphere of other rocky planets out there in space. The study has revealed that the initial atmospheres of terrestrial planets may have been significantly different from many of the common assumptions used in theoretical models. Researchers at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz, US, heated meteorite samples that landed at different times in different parts of the Earth in a high-temperature furnace and analysed the gases they released to investigate the atmospheres.

Maggie Thompson, the first author of the study, said the information will come in handy when we start “being able to observe exoplanet atmospheres with new telescopes and advanced instrumentation.”

Myriam Telus, the co-author of the study and assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, said that when the building blocks of a planet are coming together, the material is heated and gases are produced. “And if the planet is large enough, the gases will be retained as its atmosphere,” added Telus.

Three meteorites of CM-type carbonaceous chondrites — Murchison, Jbilet Winselwan, and Aguas Zarcas — were analysed. The materials that made up these meteorites were closest in terms of the materials that formed the Sun and planets. Thompson said these meteorites were left over materials from the building blocks that went into forming the planets in the solar system.

While the Murchison chondrite fell in Australia in 1969, Jbilet Winselwan was collected in Western Sahara in 2013, and Aguas Zarcas fell in Costa Rica in 2019. Researchers from three departments at UCSC — Astronomy and Astrophysics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Physics — analysed these meteorites.

How did the researchers analyse the meteorites?

The researchers, while working with material scientists in the physics department, set up a furnace that was connected to a mass spectrometer and a vacuum system. When the meteorite samples were heated to 1,200 degrees Celsius, the system examined the volatile gases the minerals produced in the sample. Water vapour was the dominant gas, with significant amounts of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and smaller amounts of hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide gases also released, according to the statement.

Telus said models of planetary atmospheres often assume solar abundances — "a composition similar to the sun and therefore dominated by hydrogen and helium."

However, she added, on the basis of outgassing from meteorites, one would expect water vapour to be the dominant gas, followed by carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. “Using solar abundances is fine for large, Jupiter-size planets that acquire their atmospheres from the solar nebula, but smaller planets are thought to get their atmospheres more from outgassing,” Telus said.

Other researchers, too, in the past have carried out heating experiments but for other purposes using different methods. “A lot of people are interested in what happens when meteorites enter Earth's atmosphere, so those kinds of studies were not done with this framework in mind to understand outgassing,” Thompson said.

“It may seem arbitrary to use meteorites from our solar system to understand exoplanets around other stars, but studies of other stars are finding that this type of material is actually pretty common around other stars,” Telus noted.

Is OnePlus 9R old wine in a new bottle — or something more? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Later (starting at 23:00), we talk about the new OnePlus Watch. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.


For the latest tech news and reviews, follow Gadgets 360 on Twitter, Facebook, and Google News. For the latest videos on gadgets and tech, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and ZTE Tipped to Launch Smartphones With Under-Display Selfie Cameras Later This Year
Realme RMX3161 Spotted on Geekbench With Snapdragon 750G SoC
Share on Facebook Tweet Snapchat Share Reddit Comment



© Copyright Red Pixels Ventures Limited 2022. All rights reserved.