When one cloud of gas and dust collapses, a star is formed in it. A disk is generated around it, which later turns into comets and asteroids and, finally, into planets. During these stages, some of the elements contained in that initial cloud can be transported, including water. However, until now there was a lost link in history. It was known how water passes from the cloud of gas and dust to the star and from comets and asteroids to the planets. But it remains to be seen how it goes from newly formed stars to comets. This applies to our solar system, but also to any other planetary system. Now, thanks to a study recently published in Nature, we finally have the answer.
It was achieved by an international team of scientists, working with SOULThe radio telescope installed in Chile. With their research, they were able to find water in the planet-forming disk of a star called V883 Orionis. It is a young star, located approximately 1,300 light years from Earthwhich has some features that made finding that missing link essential.
Using the right instruments and finding the perfect star allowed us to have very useful information about this. planetary water missing link. But let’s see how they got to it.
Light water and heavy water, the keys to following it through the solar system
Generally, in this type of research, the proportions of two types of water are measured. On the one hand, we have the most abundant, with the formula that we normally study in school. That is, the one whose molecule is composed of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms (H₂O). However, there are also slightly heavier water molecules, in which one of the hydrogen atoms is replaced by deuteriumwhich is a slightly heavier isotope of hydrogen.
O proportion of both types of water can help us know where a sample comes from. For example, it has been seen that some comets and asteroids have the same ratio as terrestrial water, which seems to indicate that they discharged water on our planet.
But how did this water from the planet-forming disk get to the planets? This is the missing link that scientists have been looking for for so long. And now they may have found it.
Why was it so hard to find the missing link?
Finding water in space using ground-based radio telescopes such as ALMA is not easy. This can be done if you are in gaseous statesince the radiation emitted by the particles is measured as they spin and vibrate. However, in planet-forming disks, water is often in the form of icebecause its temperature is very low. Therefore, as in the solid state the particles they barely vibrate, this technique cannot be used. yes there can be some gas in the center of the disk, where it is warmer, but these nearby regions are obscured by the dust disk itself. Also, they are too small to be photographed with the current telescopes. All this is what has so far prevented finding the missing link in planetary water.
But the V883 Orionis has an advantage that helps solve these problems. And is that, according to a previous study, an explosion of the star warmed up your planetary disk enough to keep water in a gaseous state beyond its center.
For this reason, they used ALMA to detect this radiation emitted by gaseous water. They managed to find it and also measure its composition, which helps to locate the missing link in the planetary water distribution chain. They were even able to measure the total amount of water and check for 1,200 times more than in all the Earth’s oceans.
At this point, the study authors plan to continue investigating this planetary disk, this time with the European Southern Observatory Extremely Large Telescope (ESO). Thanks to its first generation infrared instrument METIS, they believe they will be able to better track water from the birth of stars to the formation of entire planetary systems. We already have the missing link, we just need to finish putting it on its chain.