Water Surrounding a Dying Sun-like Star
In my previous post I discussed the evidence of massive amounts of water around a young sun-like star. In 2010 I discussed the opposite situation, in which a sun-like star, in its dying throes is revealing the enormous amount of water which had lain hidden in its ‘giant planets’ since its formation.
Evidence of water vapor swirling around this ancient star has been seen by the Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS), a small radio observatory launched by NASA in 1998. Its sensors have focused on IRC+10216 (CW Leonis) located 500 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Leo. This is a red giant which is expanding in its dying stage, consuming the planets which once orbited it. The report states:
“’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. [My emphasis]
In order to justify this ‘comet’ explanation they estimate that the comets circling CW Leonis have a total mass broadly similar to the original mass of our Solar System’s Kuiper Belt. The problem is that, of the currently imagined 70,000 Kuiper icy bodies, only 1000 have been discovered to date. These are thought to be circling our Sun beyond the orbit of Neptune. The emphasized portion of the quote reflects modern astrophysicists view of our solar system, i.e. that water is only present in the form of comets, satellites of the giant planets and the icy bodies imagined to exist in the Kuiper Belt.
Given that world-view, the large amount of water in CW Leonis is difficult to explain. I maintain that what is happening in CW Leonis is that its expanding red giant star is vaporizing its giant planets, which are solid methane gas hydrates, primarily water, just like Jupiter and Saturn, thereby revealing a portion of their enormous water content. This rare event is making visible a vast quantity of water because the heat of the star is converting it to a gaseous form for a brief period, allowing it to be identified by infra-red spectrometers.
The major difference between the water vapor in the proto star of the previous post is that the temperature in the planetary disk is cold enough that the water surrounding the new star is in the form of invisible ice ‘conglomerates,’ because when the water vapor temperature drops droplets then ice crystals form, the vapor pressure of which is infinitesimal. This means that ice particles do not sublime to release gaseous water vapor, thereby rendering it invisible to spectrometers. In addition, the evidence (Louis Frank’s house-sized ‘comets’) suggests that these particles combine to form loosely bound conglomerates in the weightlessness of space. If clouds of ice particles are optically thick, as in the case of AU Microscopii and the proto-star in the previous post, they can be imaged by reflected light but the molecules cannot be identified. Astronomers refer to these as dust clouds, but have no idea that they consist mostly of water.
Thus the evidence for vast amounts of water in the systems surrounding sun-like stars comes from both a proto-star, just forming, and an ancient star in its death throes. During the life time of these systems the water is completely hidden within their giant planets in the form of solid methane gas hydrates.