Possibly water in abundance in galactic dusty plasma clouds and Ms Frankland and her colleagues at Heriot-Watt are trying to replicate the same properties of the medium in a lab.Dusty experiments are solving interstellar water mystery
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“We think that the Earth’s water was delivered by comets during the early stages of Earth’s history and that comets were formed from interstellar material left over after the birth of the Sun, but the next step back has been unclear,” said Ms Frankland.
“Our experiments rely on being able to reproduce in the laboratory the very low pressures and low temperatures of these star-forming regions. We set up our experiments in a vacuum chamber and cool it down to –268 degrees Celsius, then use surface sensitive techniques to explore the physical and chemical behaviour of oxygen atoms and molecules on the surfaces of dust and ice grains.” said Ms Frankland.
“These initial experiments are having some interesting results in that they are allowing us to look at how the ice coating develops on the dust particles. It appears that oxygen atoms may become trapped inside the icy mantles. We need to do more work, but it may be that our experiments might help solve the mystery of the missing atomic oxygen as well as where the water has come from,” said Ms Frankland.