Question about water and space

Thursday, May 05 2005 @ 09:37 pm EDT

Contributed by: kedi151

Hey everybody. I gave presentations to my daughters 4th grade science classes yesterday and as usual, the kids never fail to amaze me with their level of knowledge and the questions that they ask. I had talked briefly about the presence of ice in comets and in the rings of Saturn. I was then asked where the water comes from to which I had no answer. Can anybody tell me how water is created and does any reside in the innerstellar world of space? They also asked what the effect to earth would be if Jupiter blew up and what color would Uranus be if it wasn't blue. There were numerous extremely good questions and although I could answer most, I will need to study up on the finer details of the planets. I was lucky enough to do a little research before hand and know that Jupiter is now up to 63 moons. I had a great time and the kids seamed to really enjoy it as well. The 50 minutes for each class passed by in an instant. One class, I was only a 4th of the way thru my presentation and the teacher informed that there were only 10 minutes left. Well, lunch break is over but if anybody can help me out, I would appreciate any contributions to the water questions.

Answers as best I can give Bob Moody

Water exists by the combination of the elements that make it up, namely, one atom of oxygen bound to two atoms of hydrogen. We know that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and we believe we understand that oxygen came about as a result of the deaths of so-called "first-generation stars". These are stars which were made up almost exclusively of hydrogen and helium, with a thin sprinkling of lithium. These three were the original elements from the creation of the universe, and everything on the Periodic Table of Elements above these three elements have come about as the result of large first-generation stars which went supernova and literally "cooked up" the heavier elements during those supernova explosions. It takes titanic explosions with super-hot temperatures to forge the heavy elements.

Click "Read more" for the rest of this explanation.....

Oxygen is currently abundant in the universe, and it's not difficult for different atoms to bond together to create new elements. When the Earth formed, the elements that comprise our Sun already existed in the molecular cloud from which our solar system formed, and water IS present in the Fraunhofer absorption lines that reveal the Sun's chemical make-up to us. The frozen water in comets and in the particles of Saturn's rings are left over from the early solar system. Just after the Sun began to burn hydrogen by the fusion process to shine with it's own light, the enormous energy released from that young Sun effectively pushed the water that was present in the molecular cloud farther out from the Sun where it could eventually solidify and reform providing the materials for objects like comets and the icy objects in Saturn's rings. It is believed that for our Earth to have the oceans we see today, planetesimals (small planet-like worlds) had to have formed from the concentrations of the rocky silicates, water, and ice that was displaced from the inner solar system to the outer solar system. That icy, watery material had to have been at least as far away from the Sun as the asteroid belt or the orbit of Jupiter for the Sun's energy not to have evaporated it away. It's estimated that our earth orbits just barely within the so-called "habitable zone" where our atmosphere and magnetic field are sufficient to keep us safe and provide water in liquid form for life to have arisen here. If Earth were only 5% closer to the Sun, there might not have been any oceans or life on our third rock from the Sun.

Many meteorites contain water within them, although in miniscule amounts. The recent comets Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake and Halley all showed about the same concentrations of water vapor in their gaseous tails, leading scientists to believe that comets were NOT the origin for the water in our oceans. There's too much frozen methane, ammonia and other volatiles and not enough water in comets to have done that. For our oceans to have formed, it is believed that that water HAD to have come from the planetesimals that were all crashing into the young Earth as our planet formed from the molecular cloud. In fact, it's believed that the formation of our moon by direct impact with a "Mars-sized" planetesimal could possibly have been the reason why we have the oceans we have today. After all, the most abundant gas released from volcanoes is water vapor by a large percentage. Frozen water ice and water vapor was likely a part of Earth and that planetesimal left over from the basic materials that made up the early Earth, as well as all that re-formed planetesimal impact residue that still orbits us today as what we call the moon. That's likely the source of the "ice" found on the moon by the Clementine spacecraft deep within those few craters at the moon's north and south poles where sunlight never reaches.

Water is everywhere. We see it throughout the beautiful clouds of the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae, the Orion and a few thousand other stellar nurseries. It's estimated that within the Orion nebula, water is formed at such a prodigious rate that the water in all of earth's oceans could be replenished every 24 minutes. It's not as obvious as predictions suggest, probably because it exists in frozen form in so much of the visible universe. As we learn more about the universe we live in, we're likely to learn the truth about just how much water there really is out there, frozen, just waiting for a little warmth to change it to a gas and thereby make it obvious to our spectrometers and other detection devices. It would appear that we live within a very wet universe, and therefore likely teeming with life forms.

For further information, READ - "What's Water got to do with it?" by William Speed Weed....Astronomy magazine....Aug 2001...pgs 38-43

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