Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have detected gaseous water in the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. This water carries a chemical signature that explains the journey of water from star-forming gas clouds to planets, and supports the idea that water on Earth is even older than our Sun.

This artist’s impression shows the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. In the outermost part of the disc water is frozen out as ice and therefore can’t be easily detected. An outburst of energy from the star heats the inner disc to a temperature where water is gaseous, enabling astronomers to detect it. The inset image shows the two kinds of water molecules studied in this disc: normal water, with one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, and a heavier version where one hydrogen atom is replaced with deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada.

We can now trace the origins of water in our Solar System to before the formation of the Sun,” says John J. Tobin, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA and lead author of the study published today in Nature.

This discovery was made by studying the composition of water in V883 Orionis, a planet-forming disc about 1300 light-years away from Earth. When a cloud of gas and dust collapses it forms a star at its centre. Around the star, material from the cloud also forms a disc. Over the course of a few million years, the matter in the disc clumps together to form comets, asteroids, and eventually planets. Tobin and his team used ALMA, in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, to measure chemical signatures of the water and its path from the star-forming cloud to planets. […]

Read more in the original article: ESO



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