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Between the sheets

Layered minerals in planet-forming region suggest origin of Earth’s oceans

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1:18pm, September 15, 2010

BALTIMORE — Examining a dusty disk — a sign of planet formation — around a young star, astronomers appear to have found a new clue about how the youthful Earth acquired water to form oceans and provide a habitat for life.

The disk of debris surrounds the 10-million-year-old star EF Chamaeleontis, which lies about 310 light-years from Earth. Previous observations with NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope showed that the dust is relatively warm. That suggests the radiation is most likely generated by collisions between bits of material, or planetesimals, in the region around the stars where rocky, terrestrial planets could form.

In the new study, Thayne Currie of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and his colleagues used a spectrometer on Spitzer to separate the infrared emissions into individual wavelengths that would enable the scientists to identify the composition of material within the warm disk. Currie and his

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