TechALMA telescope discovers oceans of water vapor in star's planet-forming disc

ALMA telescope discovers oceans of water vapor in star's planet-forming disc

Space, illustrative photo
Space, illustrative photo
Images source: © Unsplash
6:46 PM EST, February 29, 2024

Water is vital for life on Earth and plays a crucial role in forming planets. Facchini and his team's findings support theories about water's impact on planet formation.

Water in Space

Focusing on the disc around HL Tauri – a young star resembling our Sun, but much younger and located 450 light-years away – astronomers found it contains three times as much water as all of Earth's oceans combined.

"I never imagined we would detect oceans of water vapor in the very area where a planet is likely forming," Facchini stated.

The team detected water vapor within this distant circumstellar disc thanks to the images captured. Interestingly, a significant amount of this water is situated where there is a noticeable gap in the disc, potentially indicating the presence of an emerging planet. As planets form, they accumulate matter from gas and dust-rich discs, creating gaps.

The process of planet formation hinges on dust grains within the disc. These grains collide and combine to form larger objects. In areas sufficiently cold for water to freeze on these grains, planet formation is more efficient, echoing the presumed conditions at the dawn of our Solar System.

Observing water in space from the ground is challenging because water vapor in Earth's atmosphere obstructs weak signals from space. However, the ALMA network, composed of dozens of radio antennas on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile at nearly 16,404 feet above sea level in a dry environment, enabled this groundbreaking discovery.

This research was published in "Nature Astronomy". The ALMA network is part of a global project, with ESO representing Europe. Poland is among the countries that contribute to ESO.
Related content