Water is an integral part of life and an important factor in our Universe. It is even older than the Sun, as a recent study showed that it existed before the star was formed. This finding provides us with evidence of the complex evolution of our Solar System, and how the Universe managed to come to be as we know it today.
How did the research begin? With the observation of a star not too far away. It shed light on the trajectory of water in the Universe. It turned out that water in stellar systems was already present in protostellar disks. It existed even before the stars were born. So, water is older than the Sun.
A team of scientists from the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory saw it. They observed the star V883 Orionis 1,300 light-years away. It is surrounded by a huge disk of material that will later coalesce into orbiting planets. It is in the midst of formation. And the presence of water vapor was ambiguously detected.
Water is key
What does this suggest? That water was present in the gaseous cradle from which the Sun was born. Before the Sun and the Earth. “We trace the origins of water in our solar system to before the formation of the Sun.” The astronomer John Tobin, from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory of the United States, assures us.
Water is key to planet formation. Stars are born from clouds of dust and gas in space. A dense mass collapses under the effect of gravity and, as it spins, begins to attract more material from the surrounding cloud. And it forms a disk that feeds the baby star.
The rest of the planetary system forms from what is left of the disk. The dust grains stick together electrostatically. Water plays an important role there. It coats the dust grains like ice, giving them additional stickiness. It helps the particles cling to each other in the early stages of planetary growth.
“The water in planetary systems formed billions of years ago, before the Sun. This confirms it,” says astronomer John Tobin of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
“Universal primordial” water predates the birth of a star or the Sun. Water is older than the Sun. Not only could it have arrived on Earth with comets and asteroids. It could also have been with dust particles in the form of ice on their surfaces. This in particular improved the adhesion. And it could have accelerated the formation of planets before the phenomenon of gravity took full effect.