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  • Writer's pictureThe House of Q

Possible life on another galaxy as evidenced by H2O

For generations, scientists have been searching for a specific set of circumstances and chemicals to come together in the right place, at the right time.

Water (H20), a fundamental source of life, has been detected by astronomers in the most massive galaxy nearly 12.88 billion light years from Earth with the help of Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Not only did it detect water but also carbon dioxide (CO2). This is the most distant spotting of particles in a regular star-forming galaxy and is also the most detailed study of molecular gas content of a galaxy in the early universe to date. Observation of these two molecules in plethora indicates that the molecular universe was thriving shortly after the elements were formed in early stars. SPT0311-58 are two very distant and extremely dusty galaxies. These were also spotted with ALMA and was first seen in 2017 in the Epoch of Reionization. This epoch took place at a time when the universe was just 780 million years old and the first stars and galaxies were forged. Scientists believe that the two galaxies may be merging, and that their rapid star formation is not only using up their gas, or star-forming fuel, but that it may eventually evolve the pair into massive elliptical galaxies like those seen in the local universe. "This further excites the water molecules, giving rise to the water emission that scientists are able to observe. In this case, it helped us to detect water emission in this massive galaxy. This correlation could be used to develop water as a tracer of star formation, which could then be applied to galaxies on a cosmological scale.” said Sreevani Jarugula, an astronomer at the University of Illinois and the principal investigator on the new research. “This exciting result, which shows the power of ALMA, adds to a growing collection of observations of the early Universe,” said Joe Pesce, astrophysicist and ALMA Program Director at the National Science Foundation. “These molecules, important to life on Earth, are forming as soon as they can, and their observation is giving us insight into the fundamental processes of a Universe very much different from today’s.”

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