First evidence that water forms in interstellar space

Star juice

Water is the most abundant solid material in space. Astronomers see it on various planets, on moons, in comets and in interstellar clouds. But how did it get there? Nobody really knows how water could possibly form in the freezing darkness of interstellar space.

At least they didn’t until now. Today, Akira Kouchi and buddies at the Institute of Low Temperature Science at Hokkaido University in Japan say that have created water for the first in conditions similar to those found in interstellar space.

Water forms quite easily when oxygen and atomic hydrogen meet. The problem is that there is not enough of it floating around as gas in interstellar dust clouds. So instead, the thinking is that water must form when atomic hydrogen interacts with frozen solid oxygen on the surface of dust grains in these clouds.

Kouchi and co recreated this process by creating a layer of solid oxygen on an aluminum substrate at 10K and then bombarding it with hydrogen. Sure enough, infrared spectroscopy confirmed the presence of water and hydrogen peroxide, and in the right quantities to explain the abundance of water seen in interstellar clouds.

That’s cool and in more ways than one. All the water in the solar system–in comets, on Mars and in the oceans on Earth–must have formed in exactly this way in the interstellar dustcloud which pre-dated Sol and the planets.

So that’s not just any old water you’re sipping, that’s interstellar star juice.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0805.0055: Formation of Hydrogen Peroxide and Water from the Reaction of Cold Hydrogen Atoms with Solid Oxygen at 10 K

11 Responses to “First evidence that water forms in interstellar space”

  1. [...] How water formed on Earth and forms around the universe. We’re all made of stardust. [...]

  2. Franko says:

    Cool, Im thirsty…

  3. Minoru says:

    Great story. I’m thirsty, too. I think I’ll have some of that juice now.

  4. I think that this is AWESOME that they figured this out. I believe that if they can replicate this on earth .. then they should be able to replicate something like this on a lunar or a martian colony and solve their lack of water problem.

  5. [...] Arxivblog.com Vía [...]

  6. [...] with frozen solid oxygen on the surface of dust grains in these clouds. Now Japanese astronomers have demonstrated this process for the first time in the lab in conditions that simulate interstella…. That’s cool because all the water in the solar system, including almost every drop you drink [...]

  7. don says:

    I doubt that it would be feasible to replicate for practical use in this scenario, even though it is possible. There would have to be vast sources of hydrogen gas, and frozen oxygen floating around in very low temperatures, and huge amounts of energy to blast the oxygen with the hydrogen. All energy and material taken into account, it would be easier to transport water from Earth to say Mars. But if we ever find ourselves in primitive interstellar space who knows…

  8. [...] : the physics arXiv blog, arxiv.org/abs/0805.0055: Formation of Hydrogen Peroxide and Water from the Reaction of Cold [...]

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