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Rho Ophiuchi Nebula--A Source of Earth's Original Water?



Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) a key molecule for both astronomers and chemists has been discovered close to the star Rho Ophiuchi, about 400 light-years away. The region contains very cold (around -250 degrees Celsius), dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust, in which new stars are being born. Its formation is closely linked to two other familiar molecules, oxygen and water, which are critical for life. Because much of the water on our planet is thought to have originally formed in space, scientists are eager to understand how it is created.

An international team of astronomers made the discovery in 2011 with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX), situated on the 5000-metre-high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. 

The clouds are mostly made of hydrogen, but contain traces of other chemicals, and are prime targets for astronomers hunting for molecules in space. Telescopes such as APEX, which make observations of light at millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelengths, are ideal for detecting the signals from these molecules.

Now, the team has found the characteristic signature of light emitted by hydrogen peroxide, coming from part of the Rho Ophiuchi clouds.

"We were really excited to discover the signatures of hydrogen peroxide with APEX. We knew from laboratory experiments which wavelengths to look for, but the amount of hydrogen peroxide in the cloud is just one molecule for every ten billion hydrogen molecules, so the detection required very careful observations," says Per Bergman, astronomer at Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden. Bergman is lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Hydrogen peroxide is thought to form in space on the surfaces of cosmic dust grains — very fine particles similar to sand and soot — when hydrogen (H) is added to oxygen molecules (O2). A further reaction of the hydrogen peroxide with more hydrogen is one way to produce water (H2O). This new detection of hydrogen peroxide will therefore help astronomers better understand the formation of water in the Universe.

"We don't understand yet how some of the most important molecules here on Earth are made in space. But our discovery of hydrogen peroxide with APEX seems to be showing us that cosmic dust is the missing ingredient in the process," says Berengere Parise, head of the Emmy Noether research group on star formation and astrochemistry at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and a co-author of the paper.

To work out just how the origins of these important molecules are intertwined will need more observations of Rho Ophiuchi and other star-forming clouds with future telescopes such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — and help from chemists in laboratories on Earth.

This month, SOFIA, the "Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy," completed its first series of science flights, using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT). They include first detections of new interstellar molecules and important spectral lines in space, and address different stages of the star formation process.

As a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR), SOFIA operates a 2.7-m telescope in a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft and is the world's largest ever airborne infrared observatory. 

SOFIA flies at altitudes as high as 13700 meters to provide access to astronomical signals at far-infrared wavelengths that would otherwise be blocked due to absorption by water vapour in the atmosphere. The SOFIA observatory and the GREAT instrument open the far-infrared skies for high-resolution spectroscopy, and GREAT pushes its technology to higher frequencies and sensitivities than ever reached before. 

The colors of the Rho Ophiuchi (oh'-fee-yu-kee) clouds (image above) highlight the many processes that occur there. Blue light from the star Rho Ophiuchi and nearby stars reflects more efficiently off this portion of the nebula than red light. The red and yellow regions shine primarily because of emission from the nebula's atomic and molecular gas. Light from nearby blue stars - more energetic than the bright star Antares - knocks electrons away from the gas, which then shines when the electrons recombine with the gas. The dark regions are caused by dust grains - born in young stellar atmospheres - which effectively block light emitted behind them.

The Rho Ophiuchi star clouds, well in front of the globular cluster M4 visible above on far lower left, are even more colorful than humans can see - the clouds emits light in every wavelength band from the radio to the gamma-ray.



The optical color image above of the rho Ophiuchi star formation region, about 400 light-years from Earth, with dark dusty filamentary gas clouds. The position of the optically obscured low-mass protostar IRAS16293-2422 towards which interstellar deuterated hydroxyl OD has been detected is marked with a red circle. 

The absorption line spectrum, observed with GREAT onboard SOFIA, displays the molecule’s fingerprint at a frequency of 1.3915 Terahertz (or 0.215 mm wavelength). The inset shows the OD molecule (red: oxygene, gray: deuterium), an isotopic substitute of hydroxyl (OH) with the hydrogen atom replaced by heavier deuterium. This deuterated molecule is an important marker in the formation of interstellar water and may serve as a chemical clock in the early star formation process.The bright yellowish star in the bottom left is Antares, one of the brightest stars in the sky. Below and to Antares’ right is the globular cluster Messier 4.

The Daily Galaxy via

Image credit: Adam Block, KPNO Visitor Program, NOAO, AURA, NSF and ESO/S. Guisard 

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And the answer is ........ NO.

Stop speculating about just anything.

As it clearly does Knize10, this strikes me as a lot of speculation, though that opinion admittedly includes a bit of ignorance. Specifically to the question of my ignorance versus the team's speculation:

Is there some reason H2O2 couldn't form in processes right here on Earth?

Will water form only from hydrogen peroxide, or can hydrogen and oxygen fuse directly into water?

Couldn't the water (or hydrogen peroxide) have simply formed from the space dust from the same supernova that brought together the elements that make up everything else in our solar system?

I really don't know the answers to these questions; that's why I'm calling my own ignorance on them. They're colored by my assumptions of the simplest possible answers, but I allow that those assumptions could be wrong. Does anyone have the correct answers?

I know water hydrogen and oxygen DOES fuse into water in engines that use them as fuel. The water that forms is not a lot. I ASSUME it makes H2O2 also but in tiny amounts. As I understand it, water is made first being that its easier because it needs 1 less O. For proof look at the worlds lakes and oceans.

The answer to your 2nd question is; I dont know. I have always believed to rain for 40 days and nights the planet MAYBE passed through a field of ice meteors, comets or something similar. Where it would of been "created", anything is possible.

OOPS, scratch the first "water". I needs a proof reader. lol

Not Bob, you believe that it rained for 40 days and nights?!

I do. Why? Lets start off with the obvious. The Bible says it did. This gives us a time line of how long it took to flood the world. This is also backed by documentarys showing whats left from the flood from all over the world. BUT I guess you needed to see them to understand. 98% of all the proof has been covered by plants and buildings now but there are still high places that show the symptoms. The muslim attempts to disclaim the flood is more propaganda that works for some I guess. Its pretty much the same as their claim the holocaust never happened. The proof is there when people look for it.
Now do I believe that every inch of dirt went under water? Absolutely not. How high did the water get? No idea and I dont remember the documentarys even trying to guess. Was Noah the ONLY person that built a boat?? I honestly doubt it and dont know if the bible says he was the only or not. Where is the Arc? Well it landed after 8 months of floating about if memory serves me right. After 8 months of being under water all the old wood and trees still standing was likely water logged and ruined so they stripped down the Arc and reused the wood. Where is the water now?? says we lose molecules to space constantly. Even though its a minute amount NOW, imagine if there was 2Xs the water. Now I understand I have given no proof and a lot of opinions, so it is like everything else in life. Believe what your heart says and try to understand WHY people say what they say. Why is usually more important than what.

Ruth, Do you NOT believe?

Well now, let me see.. NO! Neither do I believe the Earth was created in 4004 B.C at 9.00 a.m. And I'm sorry, Not Bob, but this lady is NOT for turning.. Smartypants, if you're ever in need of a good laugh have a look at

Bedankt voor het schrijven van dit. Ik voel me alsof ik weet zoveel meer over weten dan ik eerder deed. Uw blog echt bracht een aantal dingen aan het licht die ik nooit had gedacht over alvorens te lezen. U moet dit doorgaan, dan zou Im zeker dat de meeste mensen het eens zijn youve kreeg een geschenk.

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