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Water Appears to be Plentiful in Solar System and Beyond Water Appears to be Plentiful in Solar System and Beyond

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Tech / SPACE

Water Appears to be Plentiful in Solar System and Beyond

photo of Kenneth Chamberlain
October 20, 2011

Water, it turns out, is not just common on Earth and throughout the solar system, but apparently in other solar systems as well.

NASA released evidence Thursday from the Herschel Space Observatory that a vast ocean of water vapor is enveloping a nearby disk of dust that surrounds a young star.

Although scientists previously have found evidence of warm water near developing stars, this is the first time water vapor has been found out towards the cold edge of the star's dust disk, which will eventually become planets. The water in this region may eventually form comets, which will rain down on young planets, seeding their future oceans.

The release of the Herschel data comes a day after NASA released evidence of the comet bombardment of young planets in another solar system. Researchers believe that the hailstorm of sorts is very similar to the "late heavy bombardment" believed to have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth.



This artist's concept illustrates an icy planet-forming disk around a young star called TW Hydrae, located about 175 light-years away in the Hydra, or Sea Serpent, constellation. Astronomers using the Herschel Space Observatory detected a large amount of cool water vapor, illustrated in blue, emanating from the star's planet-forming disk of dust and gas. The vapor is located in the frigid outer regions of the star system, where comets will take shape.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Evidence for this barrage comes from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which picked up indications that one or more comets was recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A primary goal of NASA's Juno mission, which was launched last summer, is to search for water in Jupiter's atmosphere. "Water is the key question that got this mission started," mission member Fran Bagenal of the University of Colorado (Boulder) told New Scientist magazine. "Not knowing where the water is in the solar system is a big deal. It puts a spanner in the works for solar system formation."(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)


The Juno mission is, at least in part, a follow up to the Galileo mission, which ended in 2003. The Galileo spacecraft found far less water in Jupiter's atmosphere than had been expected, given how researchers thought the planet had developed. Explaining the discrepancy between what scientists expected to find and what they found would either support ideas of how the solar system formed or force scientists back to the drawing board.(NASA/JPL)

Meanwhile, images and video produced from the images of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter released last summer appear to show direct evidence of water flowing on the planet.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's evidence of water on Mars isn't the first. In their visits to the planet's surface, the Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity also found evidence of water, including minerals that can only form in the presence of water. Opportunity took this photo of a crater called Santa Maria, which has a diameter about the length of a football field. Portions of the rim of a much larger crater, Endurance, appear on the horizon.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)


The Dawn spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Vesta last summer as the first part of a two-part mission to the solar system's asteroid belt. Although the search for the role of water may play a part of Dawn's visit to the asteroid, the second part of its mission is a bit more water-focused.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

The second part of the Dawn spacecraft's mission is to visit the protoplanet Ceres, which scientists believe may have a significant amount of ice under its surface. If 25 percent of Ceres is made up of water, it would have more fresh water than all the fresh water on Earth, according to NASA.(NASA/JPL)

One of the least likely places to find water is on the planet Mercury, which is the closest planet to the Sun and where surface temperatures can reach hundreds of degrees. But deep within some of the planet's craters, where sunlight never reaches, scientists believe that the Messenger spacecraft this year found evidence of frozen water.(NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)


Water also can be found in the deep craters of Earth's nearest neighbor, the moon. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found evidence in 2010 of lunar water, and confirmed that at least in some places the water was in the form of pure ice crystals.(NASA)

Water, usually in the form of ice, may be more prevalent in the outer solar system. Saturn's moon, Enceladus (pictured here in front of Saturn), is one example. Unlike many other icy bodies in the outer solar system, Enceladus probably has liquid water heated by gravitational pulls from Saturn right beneath its surface. The water often erupts from the surface in geysers, freezes, and either falls back to the surface or helps to form one of Saturn's rings.(NASA/JPL/SSI)

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