Comet shows signs of liquid water

April 5, 2011 at 10:37 PM
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TUCSON, April 5 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say there is evidence of liquid water in a comet, contradicting current theories that comets never get warm enough to melt their icy bodies.

Researchers at the University of Arizona and the Johnson Space Center analyzed grains of dust scooped from a comet's surface by the Stardust spacecraft in 2004 and returned to Earth in a capsule two years later, a UA release reported Wednesday.

"In our samples, we found minerals that formed in the presence of liquid water," UA researcher Eve Berger said. "At some point in its history, the comet must have harbored pockets of water."

"When the ice melted on Wild-2, the resulting warm water dissolved minerals that were present at the time and precipitated the iron and copper sulfide minerals we observed in our study," UA Professor of Cosmochemistry Dante Lauretta said.

"The sulfide minerals formed between 50 and 200 degrees Celsius (122 and 392 degrees Fahrenheit), much warmer than the sub-zero temperatures predicted for the interior of a comet," he said.

"This study shows the high science value of sample return missions," Lauretta said. "These grains would never been detected by remote sensing or by flying a spacecraft past the comet to make observations without collecting a sample."

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