Feeds

Spitzer team spots stellar sauna

Hot, steamy star

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vulture 2 spaceplane autopilot brain surgery a total success
LOHAN slips into some sexy bespoke mission parameters
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.