Water-covered planets like Earth might be pretty common after all.
Scientists have discovered a young star – in the Hydra, or Sea Serpent, constellation – that is surrounded by a disk of dust and gas that may condense to form a complete set of planets. Encircling that dusty disk is enough water to fill Earth’s oceans thousands of times over.
This artist's concept illustrates an icy planet-forming disk around a young star called TW Hydrae, located about 175 light-years away. Astronomers detected copious amounts of cool water vapor, illustrated in blue, emanating from the star's planet-forming disk of dust and gas. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The discovery, found using the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, is the first of its kind. Leader of the study, Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden University in the Netherlands, said
The detection of water sticking to dust grains throughout the disc would be similar to events in our own Solar System’s evolution, where over millions of years, similar dust grains then coalesced to form comets.
Comets are thought to have carried water to Earth, creating our oceans. Scientists believe that a similar process is taking shape around the young star, called TW Hydrae.
“The Herschel results demonstrate that vast reservoirs of water are available around stars for creating these hypothetical water worlds,” NASA stated in a release Thursday.
Little by little, we’re understanding how our planet came to be. It’s by learning more about our surroundings that we learn more about ourselves.