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US Scientists Literally Baked Meteorites in a Lab to Recreate the Formation of Planets

A 10 lb meteorite rock which landed in a former Khmer Rouge zone, in northwest Cambodia. (Image for representation)

A 10 lb meteorite rock which landed in a former Khmer Rouge zone, in northwest Cambodia. (Image for representation)

The study, originally published in the journal Nature Astronomy, talks about how these building blocks of a planet come together and results in the material is heated and gases are produced.

A team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the US are baking up meteorites in order to seek answers regarding the formation of planets. The meteorites are what scientists have called to be the remnants from the ‘building blocks’ of the Big Bang, that caused the formation of the universe. As such, researchers are now baking up these space rocks inside labs to try and recreate the way planets were born. One of the co-authors of the study Myrian Telus spoke of the study, “We’re trying to simulate in the laboratory this very early process when a planet’s atmosphere is forming so we can put some experimental constraints on that story."

The study, originally published in the journal Nature Astronomy, talks about how these building blocks of a planet come together and results in the material is heated and gases are produced. Telus also said that if the planet is large enough, these gases will be retained as its atmosphere. The idea behind planetary formation is that these planets are composed of something similar to that of their host star or their Sun, which would indicate that their atmospheres should have a rich amount of hydrogen and helium.

But when it comes to the process of outgassing, where the meteorites release gas, it shows that water vapour is the primary gas, followed by carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide as the second and third most abundant gases.

“Jupiter-sized planets acquire their atmospheres from the solar nebula, but smaller planets are thought to get their atmospheres more from outgassing," Telus said.

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So what involves baking a meteorite? Researchers at the UC Santa Cruz set up a furnace and connected it to a mass spectrometer and vacuum system. The spectrometer measures the mass to charge ratio of ions. These measurements are often used to calculate the exact molecular weight of a sample component, such as the amount of water vapour or hydrogen is present. The vacuum system takes care that no material from outside can enter and mix up results of the test.

The research team picked out the meteorites Murchison, Jbilet Winselwan, and Aguas Zarcas, whose composition is the closest match to that of the sun and planets.

Scientists also said that these meteorites also did not carry the risk of melting due to the heat from the baking. Also, they believe these space rocks contain some original elements that can help them to understand the composition of the photo voltaic system across eons of planet formation. The meteorites were heated to a temperature of 1200 degrees Celsius, and the system studied the gases that were produced due to this. Water vapour, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxides were found primarily along with some amount of hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide gases too.

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