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Formation and Survival of Water Vapor in the Terrestrial Planet–Forming Region

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Science  18 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5960, pp. 1675-1677
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176879

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Abstract

Recent astronomical observations have revealed what may prove to be the ubiquity of water vapor during the early stages of planet formation. We present here a simple mechanism showing how water vapor forms in situ and is capable of shielding itself from molecule-destroying stellar radiation. The absorption of this radiation by water can control the thermodynamics of the terrestrial planet–forming zone. Similar to Earth's ozone layer, which shelters the chemistry of life, the water layer protects other water molecules and allows for a rich organic chemistry. The total abundance of water vapor in the natal habitable zone is equal to that of several thousand oceans.

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