The Interstellar Medium

Radio telescopes have detected the presence of water molecules in the large clouds of gas between the stars. Water masers are clouds of water molecules that have absorbed some energy from collisions or infrared radiation and that have not yet lost this energy as a result of energy transitions. The water masers subsequently amplify background electromagnetic radiation in exactly the way that lasers in Earth-based laboratories do. Such water masers have been detected in the environments of young and old stars, a fact that implies the presence of large amounts of water in the environments around many stars. This water ice may play an important role in the advent of life in newly formed planetary systems. And some of this water eventually may be locked up in the far reaches of other systems (their Kuiper Belts and Oort Clouds), providing billions of years of comet infall. The nascent field of astrobiology is beginning to study the possibilities that comets may indeed rain down the building blocks of life onto newborn planets.


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