International Journal of Astrobiology

Research Article

Liquid water and organics in Comets: implications for exobiology

J.T. Wickramasinghea1, N.C. Wickramasinghea1 c1 and M.K. Wallisa1

a1 Centre for Astrobiology, Cardiff University, 2 North Road, CF10 3DY, UK

Abstract

Liquid water in comets, once considered impossible, now appears to be almost certain. New evidence has come from the discovery of clay minerals in comet Tempel 1, which compliments the indirect evidence in aqueous alteration of carbonaceous chondrites. Infrared spectral indication of clay is confirmed by modelling data in the 8–40 μm and 8–12 μm wavebands on the basis of mixtures of clays and organics. Radiogenic heating producing liquid water cores in freshly formed comets appears more likely on current evidence for solar system formation. A second possibility investigated here is transient melting in comets in the inner solar system, where thin crusts of asphalt-like material, formed due to solar processing and becoming hot in the daytime, can cause melting of sub-surface icy material a few centimetres deep. Supposing comets were seeded with microbes at the time of their formation from pre-solar material, there would be plenty of time for exponential amplification and evolution within the liquid interior and in the transient ponds or lakes formed as the outer layers are stripped away via sublimation.

(Received July 05 2007)

(Accepted August 09 2007)

(Online publication July 17 2009)

Correspondence:

c1 e-mail: ncwick@googlemail.com