Water may have been abundant a short billion years after Big Bang

Excerpt from thespacereporter.com

The formation of water vapor after the Big Bang was constrained by the lack of oxygen; it and other elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created only later on, in the death throes of the first generation of massive stars. Oxygen created by the demises of early stars was swept out in to space by the explosions of supernovae and stellar winds, eventually joining with hydrogen to form water.

This process created islands of gas replete with heavy elements, such as oxygen; these regions were more bereft of oxygen than gaseous regions in the modern Milky Way galaxy. However, a new study by Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has determined that, in certain islands, water vapor might have been as plentiful as it is today, only a billion years after the Big Bang.

According to a CfA statement, the researchers looked at whether water could form in the primordial molecular clouds, which were deficient in oxygen. Their analysis indicated that large quantities of water could form at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Water molecules would have been shattered by ultraviolet light emitted by stars; however, after hundreds of millions of years, an equilibrium between water creation and destruction would be reached.

“We looked at the chemistry within young molecular clouds containing a thousand times less oxygen than our Sun. To our surprise, we found we can get as much water vapor as we see in our own galaxy,” said astrophysicist Avi Loeb of CfA.

The new study has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal and is accessible online.