27 October 2011

Scientists Discover Huge Cloud of Water in Outer Space

Astronomers have discovered a huge cloud of water vapor in outer space.

It's cold enough to form comets and deliver oceans to dry planets. How big is the cloud?

It's huge enough to fill thousands of earth sized planets with water.

Astronomers detected the object "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 says, “This tells us that the key materials that life needs are present in a system before planets are born... We expected this to be the case, but now we know it is because have directly detected it. We can see it.”

Here is the European Space Agency's video on water in outer space:

Using the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared (HIFI) aboard the Hershel Space Observatory, researchers detected the chemical signature of water in the object. The orbiting space observatory is part of a European Space Agency mission along wtih the participation of NASA. Hershel is an orbiting telescope that allows astronomers, scientists, and researchers to observe at the far-infrared wavelengths. These wavelengths are where organic molecules and water emit their chemical signatures.

According to the UM article, "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 principal investigator of the study, Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden University in the Netherlands says that, “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,”

Scientists theorized that comets delivered a significant portion of Earth's oceans. Researchers also found that the ice on a comet called Hartley 2 has the same chemical composition as our oceans water.

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