Washington: The deficiency of water on the Earth has puzzled astronomers until now.
The standard model explaining how the solar system formed from a protoplanetary disk, a swirling disk of gas and dust surrounding our Sun, billions of years ago suggests that our planet should be a water world.
Earth should have formed from icy material in a zone around the Sun where temperatures were cold enough for ices to condense out of the disk. Therefore, Earth should have formed from material rich in water. So why is our planet comparatively dry?
Now, a new analysis of the common accretion-disk model explaining how planets form in a debris disk around our Sun uncovered a possible reason for Earth`s comparative dryness.
Led by Rebecca Martin and Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., the study found that our planet formed from rocky debris in a dry, hotter region, inside of the so-called “snow line.”
The snow line in our solar system currently lies in the middle of the asteroid belt, a reservoir of rubble between Mars and Jupiter; beyond this point, the Sun`s light is too weak to melt the icy debris left over from the protoplanetary disk. Previous accretion-disk models suggested that the snow line was much closer to the Sun 4.5 billion years ago, when Earth formed.
“Unlike the standard accretion-disk model, the snow line in our analysis never migrates inside Earth`s orbit. Instead, it remains farther from the Sun than the orbit of Earth, which explains why our Earth is a dry planet. In fact, our model predicts that the other innermost planets, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, are also relatively dry,” Livio said.
In the conventional model, the protoplanetary disk around our Sun is fully ionized (a process where electrons are stripped off of atoms) and is funneling material onto our star, which heats up the disk. The snow line is initially far away from the star, perhaps at least one billion miles. Over time, the disk runs out of material, cools, and draws the snow line inward, past Earth`s orbit, before there is sufficient time for Earth to form.
“If the snow line was inside Earth`s orbit when our planet formed, then it should have been an icy body,” Martin explained.
“Planets such as Uranus and Neptune that formed beyond the snow line are composed of tens of percents of water. But Earth doesn`t have much water, and that has always been a puzzle,” she stated.
Martin cautioned that the revised model is not a blueprint for how all disks around young stars behave.
The results have been accepted for publication in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.