At least when it comes to life as we know it, water is a basic requirement. So a new analysis of meteorites suggesting that water could have appeared on Earth 14 million years after the start of solar system some 4.6 billion years ago—more than a hundred million years earlier than previously thought—also raises the possibility that life began on Earth earlier as well. And the same could be said of other planets. "All the planets could have gotten their water very early, which means the planets could have been habitable immediately after they formed," a study author tells Discovery. Says another author to National Geographic, "The other inner planets could have been wet early and evolved life before they became the harsh environments they are today."
Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution came to their conclusion, published in Science, by analyzing meteorites from Vesta. The asteroid lies in the main asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, and meteorites from it have been found in Antarctica. Vesta and Earth formed in the inner solar system, and scientists have already determined that Vesta's nitrogen likely came from the same source as our own. Past analysis of the meteorites didn't turn up any water, but as Space.com puts it, the researchers "zoomed in on the molecular contents of the meteorites, and found trace amounts of hydrogen-oxygen molecules." Vesta's meteorites date to 14 million years after the solar system's start, offering proof that there was water in the inner solar system at that point. (A study in Science last month finds water to be more than 4.5 billion years old.)