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Cloud that can hold water for ages detected

Last Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 14:51

Washington: Astronomers have detected a huge cloud of water vapour, which can deliver a multitude of oceans to dry planets and is cold enough to form comets around a nascent solar system.

Scientists have found thousands of earth-oceans` worth of it within the planet-forming disk surrounding the star TW Hydrae.

TW Hydrae is 176 light years away in the constellation Hydra and is the closest solar-system-to-be.

"This tells us that the key materials that life needs are present in a system before planets are born," said Ted Bergin, study co-author and professor, University of Michigan.

"We expected this to be the case, but now we know it is because we have directly detected it. We can see it," added Bergin, according to statement from the University of Michigan.

The researchers used the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared (HIFI) on the orbiting Herschel Space Observatory to detect the chemical signature of water, the journal Science reports.

Scientists had previously found warm water vapour in planet-forming disks close to the central star.

The more water available in disks for icy comets to form, the greater the chances that large amounts will eventually reach new planets through impacts.

"The detection of water sticking to dust grains throughout the planet-forming disk would be similar to events in our own solar system`s evolution, where over millions of years, these dust grains would then coalesce to form comets.

"These would be a prime delivery mechanism for water on planetary bodies," said principal investigator Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden University in the Netherlands.


First Published: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 14:49

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