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So far, life as we know it has needed one ingredient to survive: water. This primordial and basic compound is essential for life on this planet, and a new study shows it is most likely very abundant in the Universe.

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Ilse Cleeves and Ted Bergin at the University of Michigan wanted to understand the true origin of water on our planet. There are two different theories on this topic:

1.) Molecules on ice comets collided into the Earth and volcanoes on the (then barren) planet Earth all added to one another to give rise to new terrestrial oceans.

or

2.) Water originated before the solar system which then inherited it.

The Experiment

Image of the planetary disk HL Tauri

Image of the planetary disk HL Tauri

Cleeves’ and Bergin’s experiment (actually a simulation) shows that the origin of perhaps 50 percent of our water is a result of something that predates not only the solar system , but the sun as well. The duo were attempting to find the ratio of “common” water and “heavy” water in our present day solar system, compared to before the solar system even formed. Heavy water comes from a very cold source, apparently a few degrees above absolute zero, and stars (like our own) eliminate the residuals of this primeval water.

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The simulation started by “winding the clock back” on the solar system to before there even was a solar system. They then allowed the simulation to play itself out for “millions of years,” or the typical lifetime of a planetary disk. Planetary disks are rotating “rings” full of debris and are thought to be the origin of planetary systems.

After the millions of years had passed, they found that the chemical processes in the disk were inefficient at making heavy water throughout the solar system. What this implies is that if the planetary disk didn’t create the water, then some of it had to have been inherited. Astronomer Ted Bergin was quoted as saying:

“Based on our simulations and our growing astronomical understanding, the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen atoms is a ubiquitous component of the early stages of stellar birth. It is this water, which we know from astronomical observations forms at only 10 degrees above absolute zero before the birth of the star, that is provided to nascent stellar systems everywhere.”

Cleeves added:

“The implications of these findings are pretty exciting, if water formation had been a local process that occurs in individual stellar systems, the amount of water and other important chemical ingredients necessary for the formation of life might vary from system to system. But because some of the chemically rich ices from the molecular cloud are directly inherited, young planetary systems have access to these important ingredients.”

So what do you make of these findings? Does this mean that the life-giving nature of water is an abundant substance throughout our Universe  and has spawned life? Whatever the case may be, this is a very exciting revelation!


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