Astonishing Discovery Reveals Water in Our Solar System May Have Originated Billions of Years Before the Sun

The Evolution of Water in Planet Creation as Traced by ALMA Interstellar Medium: Return

Insights into the creation of comets and planetesimals in our own Solar System have been revealed by observations of water in the disk developing around protostar V883 Ori.

The circumstellar disk of a close protostar has water in it, according to researchers examining it. With the help of fresh data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), it has been discovered for the first time that water can enter a protoplanetary sphere without significantly altering its chemical makeup. These findings support the idea that our Solar System's water formed billions of years before the Sun. The brand-new findings were released on March 8 in the magazine Nature.

Approximately 1,305 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Orion, is the protostar V883 Orionis. By demonstrating that the water in our Solar System and the water in the interstellar medium share a comparable makeup, recent observations of this protostar have assisted researchers in discovering a possible connection between the two.

"We can imagine the flow of water as a route through the cosmos. We wanted to follow that path back to the beginnings of water because we know what the ends look like—water on planets and in comets—but John Tobin, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) of the National Science Foundation, is the primary author on the new article. "Until recently, we could connect the Earth to asteroids and protostars to the intergalactic medium, but not the other way around. The discovery of V883 Ori has altered this and shown that the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in water molecules in both systems is the same.

Because water is typically present as ice in most systems, it is challenging to observe water in the circumstellar rings surrounding protostars. The water snow line or ice line, which is the region where water changes from being predominately ice to gas and can be observed in great detail by radio astronomy, is what scientists look for when they study protostars. "There isn't enough gaseous water to be readily detected if the snow line is too far from the star, and the dusty disk may filter out a lot of the water emission. However, if the snow line is farther from the star, there is enough gaseous water to be detectable, as is the case with V883 Ori, according to Tobin, who also noted that the project's success was due to the protostar's distinct condition.

V883 The water in Ori's huge sphere has changed from ice to gas because it is just hot enough. This makes this protostar a good candidate for radio-wavelength research on the development and progression of solar systems.

The majority of the water in the circumstellar disks that encircle protostars is in the shape of ice, and it can occasionally stretch far from the star. According to this animation, the snowline in the instance of V883 Ori stretches 80 au from the star, which is equivalent to 80 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. However, the temperature at V883 Ori is just high enough that a large portion of the ice in its disk has transformed into gas, allowing radio scientists to closely examine that water. The water in V883 Ori's disk has the same fundamental makeup as water on objects in our Solar System, according to recent measurements made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). This implies that the water in our own Solar System originated in the interstellar medium billions of years before the Sun. Credit: J. Tobin, B. Saxton, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NRAO/AUI/NSF.

"This observation emphasizes the excellent powers of the ALMA instrument in assisting astronomers investigate something critically essential for living on Earth: water," said Joe Pesce, NSF Program Officer for ALMA. Our knowledge of how nature functions in general and the processes that had to take place for our Solar System to evolve into what we know today profit from having a grasp of the underlying processes crucial for us on Earth, seen in more remote regions of the galaxy.

The researchers used ALMA's extremely sensitive Band 5 (1.6mm) and Band 6 (1.3mm) receivers to measure the composition of the water in V883 Ori's protoplanetary disk and discovered that it is remarkably stable between each step of solar system formation: protostar, protoplanetary disk, and comets. This indicates that water developed in our solar system long before the Sun, planets, and asteroids did. We already knew that the intergalactic medium contains a lot of water ice. Our findings demonstrate that this water was immediately integrated into the Solar System during its creation, according to co-author and University of Michigan astronomer Merel van 't 'Hoff. This is thrilling because it implies that other solar systems ought to have gotten a lot of water as well.

Understanding the function of water in the formation of planets and planetesimals is essential for comprehending the history of our own Solar System. The Sun and V883 Ori both originated in enormous molecular clouds, even though the Sun is thought to have developed in a dense star cluster and V883 Ori is comparatively remote and has no nearby stars.

The majority of the water in the interplanetary medium is known to condense as ice on the surfaces of microscopic dust particles in clouds. The water winds up in the disks around these clouds when they fall under the force of their own gravity to create young stars. A new solar system with planets and comets eventually forms as the disks develop and the ice dust particles coalesce, according to co-author and Leiden University scientist Margot Leemker. "We have demonstrated that cloud-produced water essentially takes the same path. We can therefore virtually travel in time and see how our own Solar System appeared when it was much younger by examining the water in the V883 Ori disk.

"Up until now, the water link in the formation of our Solar System was fractured," Tobin continued. We now have a continuous path in the history of water from comets and protostars to the interstellar medium thanks to V883 Ori, which was the case's missing link.

For more on this discovery, see Water on Earth Is Even Older Than Our Sun.