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Embryonic Solar System Brimming With Water

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose.nul>
Date: Sat, 5 Nov 2011 22:05:56 -0700 (PDT)
Archived: Sun, 06 Nov 2011 18:24:06 -0500
Subject: Embryonic Solar System Brimming With Water



Stig Agermose


Embryonic solar system seen to be brimming with water

Oct. 20, 2011
Courtesy of NASA
and World Science staff

New findings suggest an embryonic solar system contains
thousands of oceans' worth of water - so water-covered planets
like Earth may be common, astronomers say.

The researchers, using data from the European Space Agency's
Her--schel Space Observatory, detected cold water vapor
enveloping a dusty disk around a young star. Disks of this
nature are believed to be the ma--terial from which planets
eventually form, orbiting their central star.

Scientists previously found warm water vapor in planet-forming
disks close to a central star. But they hadn't before now
detected plentiful water extending out into the cooler, far
reaches of disks, where comets form. Scientists consider water
in that region to be important because growing evidence suggests
a key way that oceans fill up is thanks to icy comets that slam
into a young planet.

"Our observations of this cold vapor indicate enough water
exists in the disk to fill thousands of Earth oceans," said
astronomer Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden Observatory in The
Netherlands. Hogerheijde is the lead author of a paper
describing the findings in the Oct. 21 issue of the journal

The central star, called TW Hydrae, is an estimated 10 million
years old and located about 175 light-years away from Earth, in
the constellation Hydra. A light-year is the distance light
travels in a year. Astronomers believe TW Hydrae and its icy
disk may be representative of many other young star systems,
providing new insights on how planets with abundant water
could form throughout the universe.

Hogerheijde and his team reported detecting a frigid watery haze
that they believe originates from ice-coated dust grains near
the disk's sur--face. Ultraviolet light from the star is
theorized to break some water mo--lecules off this ice. That
creates a thin layer of gas with a light signature detected by
an instrument on the satellite, a mission in which NASA is also

TW Hydrae is an orange dwarf star, somewhat smaller and cooler
than our yellow-white sun. The disk of material encircling is
almost 200 times as wide as the distance between Earth and the
Sun. Over the next few million years, astronomers believe matter
within the disk will collide and grow into planets, asteroids
and other cosmic bodies. Dust and ice particles are expected
to assemble as comets.

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