cliffs cliffs There's more water on life-bearing Earth's surface than on that of any other planet in the solar system. (Photo: oleandra/Shutterstock)

How old is water?

Scientists discover that this molecule's origin may be more ancient than we thought.

If you took astronomy in college, you probably listened to a bearded professor with an affinity for alien-themed music explain that water formed relatively late in the universe. That's why life came about so recently, your professor shouted over a Sufjan Stevens metaphor.

A new study shows that the professor and his catchy tunes were probably wrong.

Water vapor may have formed less than 1 billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only 5 percent of its current age, a joint study by Tel Aviv University and Harvard University discovered.

"This was very surprising and raises important questions about the habitability of the first planets, because water is the key component of life as we know it," explained PhD student Shmuel Bialy, the lead author of the study.

starsScientists theorize that early elements were forged in stars. (Photo: Maria Starovoytova/Shutterstock)

Scientists used to think that the oxygen in water must have been forged in stars over billions of years. But this new study suggests that water could actually have been made in early universe conditions relatively soon after the Big Bang.

So, the real question: what does that mean for life? If life needs water, and water formed earlier than we thought, is it possible that life is much older than we imagined? The jury's still out on that one, but the researchers are planning to study how much of this early water could have been interstellar ice ... the kind of H20 so common in our own galaxy.

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