ESA Herschel Discovers OH+ in Planetary Nebula
ESA announces that Herschel’s SPIRE instrument has detected OH+ in the outer reaches of of the Helix Nebula. Planetary nebula are the glowing remains of a system in which a star, similar to the Sun, dies forming a Red giant which expands, consuming the surrounding planets. The article states that planetary nebula “have nothing to do with planets” because they imagine that all the lighter elements detectable in the outer fringes of the nebula are from the star. However in a previous post, concerning a similar red giant star, CW Leonis, considerable water was detected, much to the surprise of the sciene team who state: “’What makes the results we are reporting so unusual is that we have found a cloud of water vapour around a star where we would not ordinarily have expected to find water,’ said Gary Melnick of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. ‘It seems that the water vapour comes from icy comets that are melting due to the heat from the star, which is much hotter than our Sun … There must be about four Earth-masses of frozen water around IRC+10216 to produce the vapour cloud we see.” This makes clear the difficulty the scientists have in understanding the origin of all the water.
As explained in my post concerning CW Leonis, the vast amount of water found in these planetary nebula definitely do ‘have to do with planets’ – the giant planets in the system, similar to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. These four giant planets comprise 95 % of the mass in the solar system, but as yet not understood by astrophysicists, they are primarily water in the form of methane gas hydrates. When a red giant consumes its entire system, the existing molecules are almost completely dissociated, but the two most abundant, chemically active atoms, hydrogen and oxygen, inevitably recombine to form water then become invisible, in the form of ice crystals which permeate space.