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Detection of the Water Reservoir in a Forming Planetary System

Science  21 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6054, pp. 338-340
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208931

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Abstract

Icy bodies may have delivered the oceans to the early Earth, yet little is known about water in the ice-dominated regions of extrasolar planet-forming disks. The Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared on board the Herschel Space Observatory has detected emission lines from both spin isomers of cold water vapor from the disk around the young star TW Hydrae. This water vapor likely originates from ice-coated solids near the disk surface, hinting at a water ice reservoir equivalent to several thousand Earth oceans in mass. The water’s ortho-to-para ratio falls well below that of solar system comets, suggesting that comets contain heterogeneous ice mixtures collected across the entire solar nebula during the early stages of planetary birth.

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