Tags: stardust | water | life | space

Stardust Water, the H2O in Cosmic Debris, Suggests Life in Space

Wednesday, 22 Jan 2014 10:47 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Water found in stardust – the minuscule grains of cosmic debris that float through space – suggests that life is prevalent across the universe and that at least some organic life on Earth could have stemmed from such celestial particles, according to scientists.

"The implications are potentially huge," Hope Ishii, of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, told the New Scientist. "It is a particularly thrilling possibility that this influx of dust on the surfaces of solar system bodies has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life."

Though scientists have for years believed stardust contained water, this is the first time it has been proven.

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The experiment was led by John Bradley at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where Bradley and his colleagues examined an outer layer of interplanetary dust particles beneath an ultra-high-resolution microscope, the New Scientist reported.

The discovery of water within the stardust was accompanied by scientists finding organic carbon, the building blocks of life, also contained inside the interplanetary dust.

"These are the types of processes that we expect to occur in other planetary systems," added Fred Ciesla of the University of Chicago in Illinois, who was not involved in the work. "Water and organics are not uncommon."

Water forms in the stardust as a result of the space particle’s interaction with the sun.

Comprised primarily of silicates that contain oxygen, when the stardust encounters solar winds from the sun the oxygen collides with the sun’s charged hydrogen ions resulting in the production of water.

That interplanetary dust, which is believed to be prevalent in solar systems throughout the universe, has over the millennia rained down on the Earth bringing water and the essential building blocks of organic life to our planet, according to Ishii.

Those minuscule amounts of water, however, are not the basis for our great oceans, Ishii clarified, adding, "in no way do we suggest that this was sufficient to form oceans."

Scientists believe massive bodies of water are likely due to water-filled asteroids colliding with the Earth’s surface over the ages, the New Scientist noted.

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