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Giant 'Hailstorm' Bombarding Nearby Solar System, NASA Reports Giant 'Hailstorm' Bombarding Nearby Solar System, NASA Reports

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Technology / SPACE

Giant 'Hailstorm' Bombarding Nearby Solar System, NASA Reports

This artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Evidence for this barrage comes from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, whose infrared detectors picked up indications that one or more comets was recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

photo of Maggie Fox
October 19, 2011

The celestial equivalent of a hailstorm is raining down on a nearby baby solar system in a phenomenon that may resemble the process that brought water to Earth billions of years ago, NASA said on Wednesday

NASA reported that observers using its Spitzer Space Telescope had seen something that looks very much like the "late heavy bombardment" believed to have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth.

The solar system is called Eta Corvi and the dust cloud circling it strongly matches the contents of an obliterated giant comet, NASA said in a statement. It looks like a planet may have collided with a comet, Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told  a planetary science meeting at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"We believe we have direct evidence for an ongoing late heavy bombardment in the nearby star system Eta Corvi, occurring about the same time as in our solar system," Lisse said in a statement.

Scientists believe that 4 billion years ago, half a billion years after our solar system formed, icy  blocks from the Kuiper Belt got knocked into Earth’s orbit, and pelted it for hundreds of millions of years. They likely brought water and carbon to the Earth’s surface, perhaps delivering the ingredients needed for life.

 

Eta Corvi is only about a billion years old so this process could just be starting there.

"We think the Eta Corvi system should be studied in detail to learn more about the rain of impacting comets and other objects that may have started life on our own planet," Lisse said.

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