Is there water in space? | Virgin Pure

By Bob Fear

Is there water in space? | Virgin Pure

It may sound like a silly question, but it’s actually a fundamentally important one and the answer is unexpected and fascinating. Water is thought to be one of the essential elements that indicate the possibility of life. If there is water in space, then it could lead to the discovery of life beyond our own planet. It also means there could be a natural source of hydration for intrepid astronauts. As well as finding out if there is water in space, we’ll specifically look into the presence of water on Mars and the Moon. We have all the answers, so read on…

In short, yes - there is water in space, much more than you might have guessed. But where, why and how much? In 2011, scientists discovered a massive cloud of water vapour 30 billion miles from us. The water cloud is thought to contain more than 140 trillion times the amount found on Earth. Those numbers are quite difficult to get your head around. Suffice to say there’s a lot of water floating around out there, albeit in gaseous form - but that still counts.

This ‘new’ water cloud seems to be the largest amount of water so far discovered in space. But the fact that it’s 12 billion light years away from Earth means that it’s been there a very long time. So long ago that it could mean that water has been in space since the universe began. This cloud is not exactly new.

The huge cloud of water is in a quasar - one of the most powerful things to exist in the universe. At the centre of this quasar is a black hole 20 billion times bigger than our sun. This black hole is surrounded by a cloud of gas and dust. While the black hole feeds off this cloud, scientists aren’t yet sure if this means that the black hole will simply continue growing, or whether the cloud will condense to form a new star. The black hole could also eject the cloud from the quasar and send water into outer space. Discoveries such as this help us understand more about what happens to water in space.

Why is there water space?

A nebula is a huge cloud of gas and dust in space, sometimes made when a star dies and explodes. Scientists have seen water molecules in the Helix Nebula and the Orion Nebula. Hydrogen atoms, created in the Big Bang, and oxygen atoms, created in the cores of stars, combine in the gas clouds of nebulae to create water (H20 - two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom), in gaseous form. The Orion Nebula is still forming, growing and creating around 60 times more water than in the Earth’s oceans every single day.

New planetary systems forming around stars are full of water molecules. Remains of the formation of these planetary systems exist as asteroids and comets. Chemical markers in the waters of Earth’s oceans reveal their origins to be from asteroids that have landed here. So the water on our planet came from space.

Find out where our tap water comes from

Is there liquid water or ice in space?

Water ice is found across our solar system - in comets, the moons and rings around Jupiter and Saturn, and the poles of Mercury and our own Moon. The poles of Mars contain dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide), while Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, contains frozen methane. Many comets also contain frozen methane as well as frozen ammonia. So there’s a lot more ice in space than just ice made from water.

Mars was once covered in liquid water, much like our own planet. Scientists believe that Mars may have lost around 87% of the water it once had, and that its remaining water is mostly trapped underground. Some water has been seen on hills during the planet’s summer. Some believe that Venus may have been an ocean planet before it lost all of its water in a similar way to how Mars lost its water - the lack of a sustained global magnetic field.

Theories suggest that Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, three of Jupiter’s moons, may all have oceans beneath their surfaces. As may three of Saturn’s moons - Titan, Enceladus and Mimas - and Neptune’s moon, Triton. There are also theories that Pluto may be hiding an ocean of water. Scientists also believe that frozen and liquid water may exist inside asteroids and comets.

Is there water on the Moon?

In 2020, NASA found water molecules on the Moon, despite it being so dry. The fact that water was found in sunlit areas of the Moon, means that it’s probably widespread across its surface. While ice in the Moon’s permanently shadowed poles was discovered in the 1990s, the recent discovery of the actual H20 molecule is leading scientists to theorise that micrometeorites containing water may have landed on the moon and deposited it there. The sun’s solar winds may have blown hydrogen to the Moon, whereupon it reacted with oxygen in minerals. Forthcoming missions to the Moon hope to discover more about the presence of water on the moon and how it came to be there.

A treatise on love and water in the modern age

Saving our own planet’s water

While the Earth has a predominance of water, it’s extremely precious. Although 71% of our planet’s surface is covered by water, only 3% of all the water on Earth is freshwater, meaning that it’s drinkable. And more than two-thirds of that freshwater is contained in ice caps and glaciers.

We should all be conserving drinking water, especially when safe drinking water is not equally available to all. We can all do our own bit by only pouring the water we need. Small things like not leaving the tap running longer than necessary will all help. According to the Energy Savings Trust, 75% of people admit to using too much water every time they boil a kettle. Installing a home water system could help you save water by dispensing only the exact amount of hot or cold water you need.

Read our 30 tips on how to save water at home <>   

Want to keep up to date with all things Purist?

Sign up to our newsletter to get the lastest from the Purist delivered to your inbox every month.