A lot can be said about our life-giving water here on Earth. Still, I never imagined that one of those things would be: dang, you are OLD!
Scientists from Harvard, the University of Exeter, Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the University of Michigan (alma mater, woot!) recently published a study in Science confirming that the water we have here on Earth is older than the sun and the solar system. Science is amazing, isn’t it? The researchers examined the gases, ice, and dust that existed at the time the sun formed and identified how much of those elements existed in the earth. In so doing, they realized that Earth’s water had to come from someplace else — someplace that existed before the sun.
The sun did give birth to the planets in the solar system. Early in the sun’s life, it was surrounded by a solar nebula that produced the planets. The question these researchers were trying to answer was whether the ice on Earth was formed at the same time, or whether it formed out of water that already existed. They wanted to explore the possibility that water came from elsewhere, perhaps even from interstellar ice. The question is important: if water was a result of processes surrounding the sun’s formation, then perhaps its existence is rare, but if the water was a result of ice that came from the far reaches of space, then it’s likely that ice, and thus water, is quite abundant.
They used a high-tech modelling simulation to replicate the formation of the planets from the sun’s nebular disk. For one thing, they determined that the disc around the sun was too hot. They ran through various simulations, seeing if certain origin scenarios matched up with the chemicals and elements currently found on Earth. Using this system, they concluded that up to 50% of the water on Earth came from a molecular cloud outside the solar system, and could be billions and billions of years old. In other words, the planetary disc that formed each “didn’t make the water, it inherited it.”
All of this is of crucial significance to astronomers theorizing about and searching for intelligent life and habitable planets. We know that water isn’t unique to our solar system, and that similar formation processes could occur all over the universe. In fact, it’s likely that exoplanets will “form in environments with abundant water.” And where there’s water, there’s booze. And where there’s booze, there’s intelligent life. Am I right?