Once upon a time we were cosmic ice: this is how the matter that constitutes life is formed | cosmic void

Although to the naked eye clouds, rivers and oceans give us the appearance of a planet Earth brimming with water, appearances are deceptive. As with almost everything, nothing is what it seems if we change our appearance. The condensations of water in the atmosphere, the deep oceans, the continents of ice, in reality represent almost nothing of what it could have been if our planet had been placed a little more at the periphery of the solar system. Even if it must also be said that in this case we would probably not be there. But this is another story.

During the formation of the Earth, most of the water was lost to space. Only one in 1,000 games ended up here. If history had been written differently, these mile-deep oceans, the great unknowns of our planet, would still be much fuller. But let us come now to what concerns us. How is water formed? Where it comes from?

The journey that water has made to reach us is perhaps one of the longest and most complex ever made. It starts where the stars form. And that’s exactly where I, if I was a writer of another type of story, would start a story because it seems to me that’s the name of the most beautiful place in the world, which I want say it’s the world, the Universe: the place where the stars are formed. In my story the stars would have hiding places, dark and cold places where they would all huddle to get away from the adults who would come to annoy them with their lights to ask them what they are doing.

And in those places they were starting to grow and play this the planets come out like someone who puts a coal-hop. And now it’s even better because these sites are actually clouds. Clouds made up of molecules, mostly hydrogen (with 2 hydrogen atoms), and they are also the coldest and darkest places in the universe. What is in these places has no form yet, it is simply matter which compacts because it is precisely when it cools that it lets itself be crushed by gravity. When it’s hot, the stuff that makes the world is pretty bland and doesn’t let it build up, let’s just say it keeps a safe distance.

Now let’s go to the center of the cloud, the place where it compresses, where the temperature is very low. We’re talking about a few degrees above absolute zero, which on a normal people’s scale means very cold, about -250 degrees on the Celsius scale. Temperature is simply a statistical measurement, an average, in this case speed. Temperature allows us, in the world of big things, to measure the movement or average speed of small things and clouds being cold means there is virtually no movement, particles are still and also each type of particle moves differently. way. The older ones move less: the micro world and the macro world in this sense do not differ too much. In these regions, one particle out of 100 is solid and is larger than the others. And by roughly, we’re referring to something the size of a virus, at most a bacterium. On the surface of these small grains we call dust This is where water’s journey through the universe begins.

The dust particle is practically motionless, as if waiting. Then something hits her. It’s an oxygen atom that also sticks to it. Keep in mind that in a whole day a particle of dust can receive a collision: this is called being patient. Since there are many more hydrogen atoms, they hit more often, but since they are small and slippery, they don’t stick immediately, we have to invoke the quantum mechanical tunnel so they can touch the surface. Thus, if when the hydrogen atoms encounter oxygen twice, the spark occurs, a molecule of water will have formed in the form of ice: water ice.

The whole process is incredibly slow at the temperatures we face, but there is no other way to make water efficiently, and quite possibly most of the water in the universe is is formed this way. Blow by blow, collision by collision, on the surface of these grains as small as a millionth of a centimeter, a layer of ice forms and grows. These specks of dust are composed of silicon, carbon and aluminum and are no different from those found on the beach, just smaller.

We started with oxygen, but if we start with carbon in the dust and add hydrogen, we will have methane. If the temperature and pressure of the cloud changes, which they do, over time the type of ice that forms also changes. Water ice and carbon dioxide ice often develop first, followed by a thick layer of carbon monoxide, followed by methanol, the simplest alcohol. Over millions of years, atom by atom, the dust speck builds a shell of ice that is ultimately larger than the original dust speck. Now it is covered with the matter that constitutes life. This is our origin, we were once ice, forged in tiny microscopic territories suspended in space thousands of light years away.

When infrared light passes through these interstellar “snowflakes”, it vibrates ice molecules which absorb some of the light, changing their vibration patterns. The laboratory experiments show that bright ultraviolet light (from nearby massive stars) on very simple ices containing water, carbon, and nitrogen forms an organic sludge that perhaps cannot be made otherwise. This mud was able to reach young earth from comets and formed the basis of abiogenesis, the natural emergence of life from non-life. Hundreds of hours of the first year of JWST will use NIRCAM, NIRspec and MIRI (instruments that have had an important contribution from the Spanish community in their construction and development) to understand cosmic ice and determine how much of it is left in the disks to reach the hot surface of a new world.

cosmic void it is a section in which our knowledge of the universe is presented qualitatively and quantitatively. It aims to explain the importance of understanding the cosmos not only from a scientific point of view but also from a philosophical, social and economic point of view. The term “cosmic vacuum” refers to the fact that the universe is and is, for the most part, empty, with less than one atom per cubic meter, while in our environment, paradoxically, there are quintillion atoms per cubic meter, which invites us to reflect on our existence and the presence of life in the universe. The section is made up Pablo G. Perez Gonzalezresearcher at the Center for Astrobiology; Patricia Sanchez Blazquez, full professor at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM); Yes Eva Villaverresearcher at the Center for Astrobiology.

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