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Water on Earth Predates the Solar System, and Even the Sun

 September 27, 2014 

An illustration of the history of origins of water in our solar system. A new study finds it started in the molecular cloud (prior to the Sun's formation), traveled through the stages of star formation, until it wound up in the solar system. (Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO)


Al-Jazeerah Editor's Note:

Readers may find it interesting that the Holy Quran mentioned that water preceded the creation of heavens and the Earth. The Bible mentioned that water preceded light (the Sun).


( 11: 7).

 ۖ  ۖ ( 21: 30).

And it is He who created the heavens and the Earth in six days - and His Throne had been upon water (Hood, 11: 7 of the Holy Quran).

Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the Earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe? (Al-Anbiya, 21: 30 of the Holy Quran).

Genesis 1:1-3:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.



Water on Earth Predates the Solar System, and Even the Sun

 September 27, 2014 

By Deborah Netburn

LA Times, September 27, 2014

Some of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.

That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system even older than the sun itself.

In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth and throughout the solar system could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.

This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.

Its pretty amazing that a significant fraction of water on Earth predates the sun and the solar system, said study leader Ilse Cleeves, an astronomer at the University of Michigan.

This finding suggests that water, a key ingredient of life, may be common in young planetary systems across the universe, Cleeves and her colleagues say.

Scientists are still not entirely sure how water arrived on Earth. The part of the protoplanetary disk in which our planet formed was too hot for liquid or ice water to exist, and so the planet was born dry. Most experts believe the Earths water came from ice in comets and asteroids that formed in a cooler environment, and later collided with our planet.

But this theory leads to more questions. Among them: Where did the water preserved in the comets and asteroids come from?

To find out, scientists turned to chemistry. Here on Earth, about one in every 3,000 molecules of water is made with a deuterium atom instead of a hydrogen atom.

A deuterium atom is similar to a hydrogen atom except that its nucleus contains a proton and a neutron, instead of a lone proton. (Both atoms also contain a single electron.) That makes deuterium twice as heavy as hydrogen, which is why water molecules made with deuterium atoms (HDO) are known as heavy water.

At the time that our sun was born, the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen throughout the universe was about 1 deuterium molecule to every 100,000 hydrogen molecules. But for water in the solar system, the proportion is significantly higher.

It's pretty amazing that a significant fraction of water on Earth predates the sun and the solar system. - Ilse Cleeves, University of Michigan astronomer

Water with a high deuterium content can only form under specific conditions. The environment needs to be very cold, and there needs to be enough energy to power the reaction that binds hydrogen, deuterium and oxygen. Over the past several decades, researchers have come up with two possible and competing  explanations of how this heavy water took up residence in our solar system.

The first is that it came from interstellar water ice that formed in the huge cloud of gas that gave birth to our sun and the solar system. Stellar nurseries can be found throughout the universe, and they are rich in both heavy water and regular water (H20), the researchers said.

The second possibility is that the violence and energy of star birth ripped apart that interstellar water, and its building blocks got reprocessed within the protoplanetary disk that would eventually coalesce into the planets and other heavenly bodies.

For the past several years, Cleeves has been trying to determine just how much energy was able to penetrate the cold, dense region of the planet-forming disks around stars.

This study was kind of a side project, she said. We realized that if the amount of energy in the disk is as low as we think, that means the water in our solar system couldnt have formed here, and it had to come from somewhere else.

Using computer models, she and her colleagues concluded that the disk was certainly cold enough for heavy water to form. But the gas would have been too dense to allow X-rays to enter, and the solar winds and magnetic fields would have had no trouble deflecting cosmic rays.

Without these energy sources, Cleeves said, deuterium and oxygen couldnt have formed heavy water.

But it would have been easy for cosmic rays to penetrate the gas cloud before it collapsed into the protoplanetary disk, she said. There, those rays could have helped heavy water get made.

People have wondered for a while how much of the water in comets is inherited and how much was made in the proto-planetary nebula, said Geoff Blake, a professor of cosmochemistry and planetary science at Caltech who was not involved in the study.

He said the paper successfully demonstrates that the young solar wind would have kept cosmic rays out of the disk entirely, making the chemistry inside too slow to produce heavy water.

And if thats true, much of the water in the solar system today had to be inherited, he said. 

Ted Bergin, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and co-author of the Science study, said the results suggest there may be an abundance of ancient water in young planetary systems throughout the universe.

Most stars and their solar systems are formed in water heavy stellar nurseries similar to the one that birthed our sun. If interstellar water can survive the trauma of our suns birth, it is likely it can survive the birth of other stars as well.

They are all made out of very cold material, with water, and that is being provided to planets as they are being born, he said. 

Related Story: Hot Jupiters hold surprisingly little water, study finds Amina Khan

Untouched water as old as 2.6 billion years is found: Don't drink it


Solar System's Water is Older Than the Sun

News Discovery, Sep 25, 2014 02:00 PM ET // by Irene Klotz

Next time youre swimming in the ocean, consider this: part of the water is older than the sun.

Guess what Earth's been hiding from us, way down in its belly? Water! Lots and lots of water.

So concludes a team of scientists who ran computer models comparing the ratios of hydrogen isotopes over time. Taking into account new insights that the solar nebula had less ionizing radiation than previously thought, the models show that at least some of the water found in the ocean, as well as in comets, meteorites and on the moon, predate the suns birth.

The only other option, the scientists conclude, is that it formed in the cold, intersteller cloud from which the sun itself originated.

The discovery, reported in this weeks Science, stems from the insight of lead author Lauren Ilsedore Cleeves, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, who realized that planet-forming disks around young stars should be shielded from galactic rays by the strong solar winds, dramatically altering the chemistry occurring inside the disks, said Conel Alexander, with the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The finding ... makes it quite hard for these regions in the disk to synthesize any new molecules. This was an 'aha' moment for us -- without any new water creation the only place these ices could have come from was the chemically rich interstellar gas out of which the solar system formed originally, Cleeves wrote in an email to Discovery News.

It's remarkable that these ices survived the entire process of stellar birth, she added.

The finding has implications for the search for life beyond Earth, as water is believed to be necessary for life.

If the sun's formation was typical, interstellar ices -- including water -- are likely common ingredients present during the formation of all planetary systems, which puts a wonderful outlook on the possibility of other life in the universe, Cleeves said.

In addition, its not just water that likely survived the solar systems birth.

The same must be true for the organic matter that we know is present in molecular cloud ices. So I think this strengthens the case that we have interstellar organic matter in meteorites and comets too, Alexander wrote in an email to Discovery News.

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