Solar wind contributions to Earth’s oceans
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The isotopic composition of water in Earth’s oceans is challenging to recreate using a plausible mixture of known extraterrestrial sources such as asteroids—an additional isotopically light reservoir is required. The Sun’s solar wind could provide an answer to balance Earth’s water budget. We used atom probe tomography to directly observe an average ~1 mol% enrichment in water and hydroxyls in the solar-wind-irradiated rim of an olivine grain from the S-type asteroid Itokawa. We also experimentally confirm that H+ irradiation of silicate mineral surfaces produces water molecules. These results suggest that the Itokawa regolith could contain ~20 l m−3 of solar-wind-derived water and that such water reservoirs are probably ubiquitous on airless worlds throughout our Galaxy. The production of this isotopically light water reservoir by solar wind implantation into fine-grained silicates may have been a particularly important process in the early Solar System, potentially providing a means to recreate Earth’s current water isotope ratios.
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