Feeds

Spitzer team spots stellar sauna

Hot, steamy star

High performance access to file storage

Somewhere in the universe, a solar system is forming. Whirling around the newly ignited stellar embryo is a disk of dust, gas, and rocks that will gradually settle down into a stable planetary system. And according to astronomers using the Spitzer space telescope, the natal cloud - the region where planets will form - is being deluged with water vapour.

Artist's impression of Water's Early Journey in a Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

The scientists say new data from the telescope shows that enough water to fill Earth's oceans five times over is falling into the planet forming region around the star system NGC 1333-IRAS 4B, and smacking into the dust and rocks that will gradually collect together to form comets, asteroids and even planets.

"For the first time, we are seeing water being delivered to the region where planets will most likely form," said Dan Watson of the University of Rochester, New York.

"On Earth, water arrived in the form of icy asteroids and comets. Water also exists mostly as ice in the dense clouds that form stars. Now we've seen that water, falling as ice from a young star system's envelope to its disk, actually vaporises on arrival. This water vapour will later freeze again into asteroids and comets."

Watson explains that because water is easier to detect than many other molecules, it is a useful indicator for astronomers seeking to learn more about the physics and chemistry of the disks around newly formed stars.

The team has discovered that the disk in NGC 1333-IRAS 4B stretches out beyond the radius of Pluto's orbit around our sun. It is relatively dense, with 10 billion hydrogen molecules per cubic centimetre. Although these facts provide relatively little clue to the star system's eventual size, they will help astronomers understand more about how planets form.

"We have captured a unique phase of a young star's evolution, when the stuff of life is moving dynamically into an environment where planets could form," said Michael Werner, project scientist for the Spitzer mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Finding the system is a stroke of luck, too. The observing team targeted 30 known stellar embryos, but only NGC 1333-IRAS 4B tested positive for water. This wet phase of a star's evolution - where ice from the stellar envelope falls towards the star, vaporising as it hits the disk - is short-lived, and hard to catch.

The star-system, located 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Perseus, also happens to be at just the right angle for us to view the stellar core, the team says.

More details, and pictures are here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.