We know that water is essential to life as we know it, but where does the water in the universe come from? The discovery last year of a young star, similar to our Sun, shooting jets of water into interstellar space may help answer this question. The protostar, 750 light-years from Earth, in the northern constellation, Perseus, is no more than a hundred thousand years old, and is still surrounded by the large cloud of gas and dust feeding its formation.
Using the European Space Agency’s Herschel infrared orbiting space telescope, astronomers were able to detect the light signatures of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, the building blocks of water, through the gas that surrounds the star. What they found was extraordinary: jets emanating from the star’s north and south poles, blasting vast quantities of water into space at speeds exceeding 120,000 miles per hour. According to Lars Kristensen of Leiden University in Holland, lead author of a paper on the discovery, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, “If we picture these jets as giant hoses and the water droplets as bullets, the amount shooting out equals a hundred million times the water flowing through the Amazon River every second.”
The researchers determined that water forms on the star, but once the droplets enter the jets of gas streaming outwards, the very high temperatures there (around 180,000 degrees Fahrenheit) turn the water into gaseous form. When the hot gases hit the much cooler surrounding material, at about 5,000 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth, they cool down and condense, forming water once more.
Stars are formed by the accretion of dust and gas in interstellar space and are later surrounded by a disk of material that falls into the star as it develops. Material that is not used in forming the star is ejected back into space from its poles. The launching mechanism for this is not yet fully understood.
Scientists are, however, beginning to understand that stars similar to our Sun undergo a high energy phase when they are young during which they spew out an enormous amount of material at very high speed. The discovery of vast quantities of water contained in these jets suggests that such protostars may be supplying the universe with water. If many stars evolve this way, with an abundance of water, so too may life.
Join the Springfield Stars Club on Tuesday, October 23rd at 7:30pm at the Springfield Science Museum for a talk by Kevin Collins on Building a Telescope and More! Kevin will talk about his experiences building a 20 inch truss tube Dobsonian telescope, and will include resources for those considering building their own telescope. Weather permitting, the scope will be on view. Kevin has a degree in geosciences and is a senior software developer for Environmental Compliance Services, Inc. He is president and web developer of the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association, and a member and graduate of the Star Watch program at Arunah Hill. An avid amateur telescope-maker, he organizes star parties with the Department of Conservation and Recreation throughout the region. Refreshments will be served, and the public is welcome free of charge.
Copyright © Amanda Jermyn