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Waterdamp in oude ster ontdekt

Geplaatst op 01-09-2010 om 20u22 door Bert Carrein - 1677 keer gelezen
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Een team wetenschappers verbonden aan de K.U.Leuven heeft waterdamp en koolstof in een oude ster ontdekt. Net die twee elementen zijn de basisvoorwaarden voor de vorming van leven zoals op de aarde. De spectaculaire ontdekking wordt morgen gepubliceerd in het tijdschrift Nature.

Met behulp van spectrometers op de Herscheltelescoop, de in 2009 gelanceerde satelliet van het European Space Agency (ESA), ontdekten wetenschappers grote hoeveelheden waterdamp in de atmosfeer van de koolstofrijke CW Leonis. Dat is een "rode reus" (oude ster) in het sterrenbeeld Leo.

"Waterdamp en koolstof zijn de basiselementen voor de vorming van leven zoals op aarde. We gingen er van uit dat de vorming van waterdamp in CW Leonis niet mogelijk was", aldus Leen Decin van het Instituut voor Sterrenkunde van de K.U.Leuven.

"Koofstof en waterdamp worden in grote hoeveelheden gevormd door sterren van het type zoals onze zon. Die stoten hun atmosfeer uit wanneer ze aan het einde van hun leven komen (rode reuzen). Voorheen werden ofwel watermoleculen ofwel koolstofmoleculen in dergelijke rode reuzen gevonden."

CW Leonis is een koolstofster die op 500 lichtjaren afstand, de dichtste oude ster bij de aarde is. Met de grootste telescopen is de ster nauwelijks te detecteren in het zichtbare licht. "In het infrarood, waarbij de golflengtes tien keer langer zijn dan het zichtbare licht, is het de helderste ster aan de hemel. De enorme hoeveelheid stofdeeltjes die haar omringen, absorberen bijna al het zichtbare licht en stralen zelf infrarood licht uit."

Kernfusiereacties diep in de ster zetten helium om naar koolstof, die in de buitenste lagen van de atsmosfeer van de ster terecht kwam. In sterrenwinden vonden astronomen grote hoeveelheden koofstofmoleculen. "Daardoor zou zowat alle zuurstof gebonden moeten zijn in koofstofmonoxide, wat betekent dat er geen water aanwezig kan zijn."

In 2001 al werd van CW Leonis straling opgemeten die op de aanwezigheid van waterdamp wees. "Er werd toen gedacht dat de sterrenwind watermoleculen losmaakte uit een wolk ijskometen rondom de ster. Maar die verklaring bleef niet overeind omdat de Herscheltelescoop waterdamp bij temperaturen tot 1000 graden over de hele sterrenwind terugvond."

Ultraviolet licht kan koolstofmonoxide afbreken en zuurstofatomen vrijgeven, die met waterstof kunnen reageren en watermolecules vormen. "De sterrenwind rond CW Lewis bestaat uit 'klonters' en laat vermoeden dat bepaalde gebieden rondom de ster bijna leeg zijn. Via die lege zones kan ultraviolet licht doordringen tot de diepste lagen van de steratmosfeer en die chemische reacties in gang zetten die water produceren."

De aarde wordt beschermd tegen de ultraviolette straling van de zon door de atmosfeer. Die atmosfeer was echter nog niet aanwezig rondom de primitieve aarde. "Mogelijk heeft ultraviolet licht een cruciale rol gespeeld bij de chemische processen die geleid hebben tot het ontstaan van de bouwstenen van het leven. De nieuwe resultaten tonen aan dat gelijkaardige processen ook gebeuren rond rode reuzen en materiaal leveren voor nieuwe generaties sterren en planeten."

Bron: http://www.hln.be

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