It's a question that has rattled
scientists for decades. What is the source of water on Earth?
While the water cycle is all too
familiar to most of us; that is: the evaporation of land bodies of water to
make the clouds that then seed as the rain drops that again wet the land; the
puzzle is not about this periodic cycle but about the initial and
original source of that ultimately precious compound behind life on earth.
Water. Where did the water first come from?
Several thinkers and religious adherents
across the world had partially or fully recognized the water cycle
(hydrological cycle). Ecclesiastes 1:6-7, KJV is said to refer to this
line of understanding.
But beyond this intriguing
precipitation, percolation water cycling that is now scientifically
prosaic, is the next step in scientific explanation. How did those
land bodies of water actually come into being? How did water first come to our
There are two debated theories for this.
The first and perhaps the easier to drift to has been the "Extra-planetary source"
theory. I dare say, it is always easy to answer scientific questions about the
origin of life by explaining that these molecules, compounds or life forms were
seeded onto earth from other planets, asteroids, comets or the like. That
simply throws the questioner out there to the unlimited expanse of eternal
Brian Greene in the Smithsonian in
May of 2013 alluded to it being either of one of comets or asteroids that
collided with earth and blessed it with its water. He said, "Both comets
and asteroids can contain ice. And if, by colliding with Earth, they added the
amount of material some scientists suspect, such bodies could easily have
delivered oceans’ worth of water. Accordingly, each has been fingered as a
suspect in the mystery."
Concluding on the yet "open question"
that "recent observations of their chemical makeups are tipping the
scale toward asteroids."
We do realize that the question of
the source of Earth's water is so important because of the role of water in the
existence of life on this planet and its being central to the search for life
on others. Water with its miraculous hydrogen bonds is a miracle compound. It
stores heat, changing temperature slowly enough to not evaporate all together
and instantly when its hot. Water freezes top-down thereby providing an
insulating layer from the harsh elements at the top of the oceans when its
cold, thereby maintaining its liquid bottom for ocean life to
continue. This is why our oceans don't freeze in the winter and why there is
life under the top ice layer in the arctic oceans.
A legendary poet, musician,
performer and sage, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti from Nigeria sang of water that the
miracle liquid had "no enemies." "It's the same water you use to
put out the fire that you use to revive a drowned victim," Fela sang.
The universal solvent, water
characterized for its adhesive and cohesive properties which make it draw up a
straw and up plant stems, takes so much energy to break its miracle hydrogen
bonds and finally turn into gas that it preserves life by being the ultimate
natural cooling compound, sucking off so much heat from the earth and your
bodies in the summer. If sweat was any other compound, we will all be dead
already and if the oceans were filled with alcohol, they would have dried up on
day one and left a scorched earth.
The Second Theory: Earth
Now back to the question on the origin
of this miracle compound. Where does the Muslim Quran come in?
With the current tools of science, while
scientists still debate the origin of Earth's water, the Quran appears to have
answered this "tough" question rather casually as many as 1400 years
ago. (609-632 AD)
In a portion discussing the formation of
the earth, the Quran says what is translated into english to mean:
after that He spread the earth. 31 He extracted from it its water and its
pasture, 32 And the mountains He set firmly. 33 As provision for you and your
Chapter 79 Verse 31 says, "He extracted from it (the earth) its
water and its pasture."
Two questions are answered here. The
first is the origin of water. The Quran lays its weight on the water being
extracted from the very Earth and not being seeded from collisions with
extra-planetary bodies like asteroids or comets. The second information
provided is on the source of the earliest life: the vegetation (pasture) also
comes from the earth and not out of this world. It is noted that famous and
controversial scientists like Richard Dawkins have alluded to theories of extra-terrestrial
life/aliens seeding early life forms on earth. This as described
earlier is a simple escape from a complex question on how the very complicated life
molecules, DNA, RNA and proteins originated on this here planet.
Ultimately, in verse 33, the Quran says
of the purpose of all these, the water and pasture are merely for the benefit
of man and his livestock. Now that's a whole other topic, on the purpose of
man's life and all other life.
Current scientific thinking
While science is still unsure. And then
of course, the very essence of science is to never be sure as not a single fact
exists in science with theories and principles being the height of scientific
proposition; it appears the more popular reasoning today is that the water came
with the earth and was not slammed into it.
"The planet formed as a wet planet
with water on the surface," Andrew Fazekas writes in National
Geographic in 2014. Referencing a study headed by Adam Sarafian of
the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts,
that dated the origin of Earth's water to around 4.6 billion years ago, right
when all the worlds of the inner solar system were still forming and not
millions of years later as prior widely thought.
By examining asteroid vesta
"primitive" meteorites thought to be candidates that
"splashed" Earth with its water, the study found the components
of the meteorites were chemically identical to carbonaceous chondrites of
Earth, thus concluding that these carbonaceous chondrites were the
common source of water with the Earth having accreted water itself.
Study co-author Horst Marschall
said, "the study shows that Earth's water most likely accreted at the
same time as the rock."
The National Geographic author concluded
from the study review that while the authors did not rule out that
some of the water that covers 70 percent of Earth today may have arrived later,
their findings suggested that there was enough already on Earth for
life to have begun much earlier than thought.
This observation of a confluence between
religion and science is interesting for those of us who are once
again witnessing religious scripture planting itself firm and
square into sciences toughest debates. Some have gone as far as advising
modern scientists to sometimes and perhaps more often than not, refer to
scripture for advise in determining the most likely focuses and
preferable directions of their quite costly research. Perhaps this
thought holds much water.
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