Nearby planet-forming disk holds water for thousands of oceans

Date:

Share post:

For the first time, astronomers have detected around a burgeoning solar system a sprawling cloud of water vapor that’s cold enough to form comets, which could eventually deliver oceans to dry planets. 

This is an illustration depicting the sprawling cloud of cold water vapor that astronomers have detected around the burgeoning solar system at the nearby star TW Hydrae. The cold water vapor could could eventually deliver oceans to dry planets that are forming in the system [Credit: Credit: Tim Pyle, Spitzer Science Center, CalTech]

Water is an essential ingredient for life. Scientists have found thousands of Earth-oceans’ worth of it within the planet-forming disk surrounding the star TW Hydrae. TW Hydrae is 176 light years away in the constellation Hydra and is the closest solar-system-to-be. 

University of Michigan astronomy professor Ted Bergin is a co-author of a paper on the findings published in the Oct. 21 edition of Science. 

The researchers used the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared (HIFI) on the orbiting Hershel Space Observatory to detect the chemical signature of water. 

“This tells us that the key materials that life needs are present in a system before planets are born,” said Bergin, a HIFI co-investigator. “We expected this to be the case, but now we know it is because have directly detected it. We can see it.” 

Scientists had previously found warm water vapor in planet-forming disks close to the central star. But until now, evidence for vast quantities of water extending into the cooler, far reaches of disks where comets and giant planets take shape had not emerged. The more water available in disks for icy comets to form, the greater the chances that large amounts will eventually reach new planets through impacts. 

“The detection of water sticking to dust grains throughout the planet-forming disk would be similar to events in our own solar system’s evolution, where over millions of years, these dust grains would then coalesce to form comets. These would be a prime delivery mechanism for water on planetary bodies,” said principal investigator Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden University in the Netherlands. 

Other recent findings from HIFI support the theory that comets delivered a significant portion of Earth’s oceans. Researchers found that the ice on a comet called Hartley 2 has the same chemical composition as our oceans. 

HIFI is helping astronomers gain a better understanding of how water comes to terrestrial planets—Earth and beyond. If TW Hydrae and its icy disk are representative of many other young star systems, as researchers think they are, then the process for creating planets around numerous stars with abundant water throughout the universe appears to be in place, NASA officials say. 

Source: University of Michigan [October 20, 2011]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Scientists solve mystery of odd patterns of oxygen in solar system’s earliest rocks

Cosmochemists have solved a long standing mystery in the formation of the solar system: Oxygen, the most abundant...

Prehistoric rock art washed away by flooding in NW China

Continuous rainstorm-triggered floods have caused substantial damage to prehistoric rock art at Helan Mountain in northwest China's Ningxia...

Carbon dioxide fertilization greening Earth, study finds

From a quarter to half of Earth's vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years...

First fossil evidence shows small crocs fed on baby dinosaurs

A South Dakota School of Mines & Technology assistant professor and his team have discovered a new species...

China starts panda census

China has started its once-a-decade  census of endangered giant pandas, according to forestry authorities in southwest Sichuan Province,...

How dinosaur dung fertilised the world

Whether it started with exhibits at the Natural History Museum or fun-terrified screams watching Jurassic Park, humans have...

Bronze statue of Apollo found in Gaza Strip

Lost for centuries, a rare bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo has mysteriously resurfaced in the Gaza...

Deep waters spiral upward around Antarctica

Since Captain James Cook's discovery in the 1770s that water encompassed the Earth's southern latitudes, oceanographers have been...