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The Role of Interstellar Molecules and Large-Scale Mixing in Making Habitable Planets

Presenter: Donald Brownlee, University of Washington
When: June 9, 2015 3PM PDT

The laboratory study of collected comet samples indicate that interstellar solids were largely destroyed during the formation of the solar system and that it is unlikely that interstellar molecules played a significant role in the origin of life on Earth. Nearly all of the rocky components (most of their mass) of the solar system’s original ice-rich planetesimals appear to have formed at high temperatures in hot inner nebula regions by the same processes that made the best preserved nebular materials found in primitive meteorites. The dispersion of isotopic and minor element compositions of comet silicates differs from what is found in meteorites, suggesting that distant solar system bodies contain an averaged mix of inner solar system materials. These materials were derived from a broad range of nebular regions and transported over great distances.

The data suggest that comet accretion times were longer than nebular mixing times, in contrast to meteorites that retain regional properties because they accreted faster than solids could be mixed between nebular regions. These results shed new insight into the mystery of why carbon and water are two orders of magnitude less abundant in terrestrial planets than they are in comets, the dominant class of early solar system planetesimal.

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