Earth’s Water Is Older Than The Sun

Sep 29, 2014

Image credit: Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO

By Sarah Fecht

Since water is one of the vital ingredients for life on Earth, scientists want to know how it got here. One theory is that the water in our solar system was created in the chemical afterbirth of the Sun. If that were the case, it would suggest that water might only be common around certain stars that form in certain ways. But a new study, published today in Science, suggests that at least some of Earth’s water actually existed before the Sun was born — and that it came from interstellar space.

That’s certainly something to ponder the next time you drink a glass of water. But the discovery is also cool because it means water — and maybe life — may be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy.

“If water in the early Solar System was primarily inherited as ice from interstellar space, then it is likely that similar ices, along with the prebiotic organic matter that they contain, are abundant in most or all protoplanetary disks around forming stars,” study author Conel Alexander explained in a press release.

The researchers concluded that a significant portion of Earth’s water came from interstellar space by looking at the relative abundance of hydrogen and deuterium.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

21 comments on “Earth’s Water Is Older Than The Sun

  • @OP – But a new study, published today in Science, suggests that at least some of Earth’s water actually existed before the Sun was born — and that it came from interstellar space.

    This should not be particularly surprising, as the Sun is a second generation star and all its elements and those in its accretion disk, came from interstellar space.
    The heavy elements like oxygen were formed in the nuclear furnaces of the first generation of stars, which exploded them into space, where they mixed with hydrogen and helium, to go on to gradually form new accretion discs and new stars.

    Oxygen is chemically very reactive, so it would readily combine with any hydrogen it encountered to form water.

    http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/meant-sun-referred-secondgeneration-star-39133.html



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  • When people asked me how old I am, I like to reply that most of me is 13.8 billions years old, the original hydrogen and the rest is at least 4 billion years old. If only the hydrogen could talk.



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  • This should not be particularly surprising, as the Sun is a second generation star and all its elements and those in its accretion disk, came from interstellar space.

    I agree, I was taught this was the case based upon the fact that our Sun is too small to go beyond Carbon in it’s lifetime. So too is our gold, uranium, iron and most other elements. It strikes me that claiming that it only recombines during solar formation is a bit odd, what’s there to stop oxygen and hydrogen combining is a condensing cloud of gas after a supernova? Surely spectral studies confirm the presence of these elements in nebula? Am I missing something? Fair enough to say that water is constantly being split in photosynthesis and recombined in different reactions in which case this is new water. However only the surface has photosynthesis. Surely most of the water is in rock or as steam in magma below the rock?



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  • Reckless Monkey Sep 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    It strikes me that claiming that it only recombines during solar formation is a bit odd, what’s there to stop oxygen and hydrogen combining is a condensing cloud of gas after a supernova? Surely spectral studies confirm the presence of these elements in nebula? Am I missing something?

    I think there will be additional combinations, as widely dispersed molecules come together in a collapsing accretion disk, but it should be no surprise that during billions of years drifting in a nebula, some will have combined earlier.



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  • When people asked me how old I am, I like to reply that most of me is 13.8 billions years old, the original hydrogen and the rest is at least 4 billion years old. If only the hydrogen could talk.

    I might be entirely 13.8 billion years old. Even though the elements higher than hydrogen and helium were forged in large stars, the stuff that makes me, is it correct that the sub atomic particles that make up the original hydrogen and helium were created in the big bang, and it is these same subatomic particles that became fused in the higher elements? If so, then I’m 13.8 billion years old. Maybe a physicist or a cosmologist could check my thinking.



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  • Hi David R Allen,

    I’m neither but I have done a couple of astronomy units at Uni. Yes it would appear you are that old. The simpler explanation is that all matter was created in the big bang but not in the states we see it in now, ie. not all the elements existed at the big bang. All the Hydrogen a little Helium and Lithium which condensed I can’t remember how long after the big bang (a particular temperature I seem to recall) anyway quarks and such forth were created they formed into matter and anti-matter which annihilated themselves leaving just matter. Eventually this cooled to form protons, when it cooled further electrons joined the nuclei forming the first atoms, I think hydrogen formed first and helium and lithium a bit latter, the heavier elements latter in the first stars – Alan will correct me if I am wrong – it’s roughly right from memory. It’s about as close to an afterlife as we can expect to get.

    I actually find it more inspiring that the constituent parts of me were creating in a cosmic explosion, forged in stars which then exploded generating many of the elements of me. That I have shared these with an enormous amount of organisms (with quite a few organisms thrown in for good measure after sex was invented) which through the copying of coded information have self organised into life forms that for a short time reside in me. When I die they will be recycled around the planet until our star dies, at which point they will eventually become redistributed again throughout our galaxy. Not a bad story to be a part of eh?



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  • On average I think I must be about six years old. (Half my fat is older than 8 years and my half my heart (the harder part I guess) is at least 15years old). I do have a two week old fingertip (I use scalpels a lot), which I’m very fond of. Unlike its predecessor it can operate the touch screen on my phone.



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  • Ha, Thanks Alan!

    I linked straight to it and you brought me straight back to cramming for my exams at uni. A little echo of mild panic struck. I’d like to think of someone who cares about the acquisition of knowledge for knowledge’s sake and that exam results should not matter so much but you’ve reminded me I care quite a bit apparently.



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  • 10
    inquisador says:

    Let’s be a bit more accurate please. The universe began with the big bang 13.8 billion years ago.

    Estimated as of 2013.

    Therefore the age of the universe is now 13,800,000,001

    Actually 13.78 + or – 0.037 billion years (estimated)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_(spacecraft)#2013_data_release

    Consider this:

    subtle fluctuations in temperature were imprinted on the deep sky when the cosmos was about 370,000 years old. The imprint reflects ripples that arose as early, in the existence of the universe, as the first nonillionth (10−30) of a second. It is currently theorised that these ripples gave rise to the present vast cosmic web of galactic clusters and dark matter. According to the team, the universe is 13.798±0.037 billion years old, and contains 4.9% ordinary matter, 26.8% dark matter and 68.3% dark energy.

    For a nonillionth of a second there I thought ‘god must be smarter than I realized’.



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  • 12
    God-fearing Atheist says:

    I love it when a journo goes from “Water is old and common in the universe” to “life is common in the universe” is a single giant leap of ignorant speculation.

    In any chain of multiplications like the Drake equation, if any one of the factors is close to zero the product is close to zero. Demonstrating one of the terms is large, does not the certainty of life make!

    I find the work of researchers like Jack Szostak far more relevant.



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  • @ All above commenters.
    I find the notion that we owe our origins to ‘star stuff’ so much more deserving of our awe and wonder than the petty thought that an ancestor was moulded from a piece of clay ( or a rib). In addition, is the fact that it’s mostly likely the true version of events!
    Now back to all that water…and diamonds if I remember correctly.



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  • @OP – The researchers concluded that a significant portion of Earth’s water came from interstellar space by looking at the relative abundance of hydrogen and deuterium.

    Evidence of an abundance of water with extractable traces of deuterium in the outer parts of solar systems, is likely to be of great interest to anyone wishing to refuel deuterium powered fusion drives on starships!



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  • I find the notion that we owe our origins to ‘star stuff’ so much more deserving of our awe and wonder than the petty thought that an ancestor was moulded from a piece of clay ( or a rib).

    With you on that score, If you ever get a chance to look through a decent sized (for the backyard) telescope I can suggest no better object than Omega Centuri http://www.martinpughastrophotography.id.au/SPSP2008/OmegaCentauri.jpg a beautiful Globular Cluster It’s quite close the the southern cross http://www.astronomyinyourhands.com/activities/jewelsoftheskyfiles/omegacentauri.pdf you can see it as a faint blob to the naked eye but when you get your telescope on it (I have a nice wide field view lens) which at first it looks like a round cloud, you get the focus just right and let your eye settle on it for a about 10 seconds and the cloud resolves itself into thousands of pin pricks (there are about a million in this Globular Cluster but my scope is only 10 inches so I can’t see anything like the majority) the effect when you reflect on the fact that each of these is a Sun is mind blowing. And then after you have imagined what it would be like to live on a planet orbiting one of these I imagine a lot of bright stars in the night sky depending on how far to the centre you are and then realising that it is one of a few hundred orbiting our galactic core so if your planet was orbiting a star on the right edge of it you would see the spiral arms of the milky way at night. I imagine they might have a less provincial view of the universe than we.



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  • Frankenstein is closest. Inventor/technologist most simply. Cutting tiny copper tracks under microscopes and not noticing where my fingers should actually start and finish.

    Its curious, our different ages. Quarks and hydrogen at the big bang. Other elements dependent variously on different star deaths. Some compounds within the earth’s lifespan. Me almost incidentally at birth then the real magical transubstantiation, when my breakfast gets turned briefly into a bit more of me as happened only this morning…



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  • I’ve only got an 8* telescope and in my city, on a very clear night, I can only get a “White Cloud” with the dust and pollution for Omega Centauri. Looks a bit like the Magellanic clouds.

    But I try to imagine if our world was in the mid outer area of this cluster, what our night sky would look like. I think the night sky would fairly blaze with very bright stars. This light sky would probably block their astronomers from seeing the larger galactic and universe views. They may think the cluster is all there is to the universe. If they’ve got radio telescopes, they would know there is other stuff out there, but they wouldn’t be able to see it. And if life abounds in the universe, this would be a wonderful area for interworld travel and lifeforms.

    Beam me up Scottie.



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