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Friday, October 12, 2012

Water to fill 2,000 times the Earth's oceans in a future star

The Herschel space telescope of the European Space Agency (ESA) has discovered water steam to fill 2,000 times the Earth's oceans in a cloud of gas and dust is foundation to collapse to form a new star the size of our Sun.

Stars from within molecular clouds cold, the 'pre-stellar cores', containing all the necessary ingredients to create planetary systems like ours. Water had been discovered outside our solar system, near regions where new stars are forming and protoplanetary disks. These were water molecules in vapor form or in solid form, together with the dust particles.

However, this is the first time that water vapor is detected in a molecular cloud that is about to begin the formation of a new star. Herschel made this discovery by studying a pre-stellar core of the constellation Taurus known as Lynds 1544.

The vapor detected, enough to fill more than 2,000 times the oceans of our planet, was released from frozen dust particles by the action of high-energy cosmic rays that pass through the cloud. "To generate this amount of steam, there must be enough water frozen in the cloud to fill three million Earth's oceans," says Paola Caselli, University of Leeds, UK, lead author of the paper reporting these results in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"Before this discovery, we thought we could not detect water vapor in these regions, since the temperature is so low that all the water would be frozen," said Caselli. Now scientists have to revise its assumptions about the chemical processes that take place in these regions of high density and, in particular, "the role of cosmic rays to maintain a certain amount of gaseous water," he says.

A New Solar System
The observations also revealed that water molecules are flowing toward the center of the cloud, which could indicate that just started its gravitational collapse after which probably form a new star. "Today there is no trace of stars inside the cloud, but to study the water molecules discovered that there is movement in the region, which could indicate that the cloud is beginning to collapse," said Caselli. "The cloud contains enough material to form a star as massive as our Sun, so it could also lead to a planetary system similar to ours."

Part of the water vapor detected in L1544 is consumed during the formation of the new star, but the rest will be added to the finished album probably circling, constituting an important reserve for planets that could get to be in it. "With Herschel we can follow the 'water trail' from a molecular cloud in the interstellar medium, through the process of star formation, and even a planet like Earth, where water is a essential ingredient for life, "explains Goran Pilbratt, Herschel Project Scientist for ESA.

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