Near the star Rho Ophiuchi, there are thick cosmic dust clouds from which new suns are born. While the vast majority of particles in the clouds are hydrogen, a newly discovered molecule could explain where water came from.
Specifically, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory have found evidence for hydrogen peroxide in those cosmic clouds. Using the APEX telescope, the astronomers detected light signatures that could only originate from trace amounts of this compound, which on Earth is used as a disinfectant and as a hair bleach.
This particular compound is important because its chemical formula is H2O2, which means it's just one water molecule combined with an extra oxygen atom. In fact, this discovery may help explain why we seldom find lone oxygen atoms in places like these space clouds. Moreover, the formation of hydrogen peroxide almost always involves the presence of those two, so its discovery in the dust clouds suggests a possible cosmic origin for the water we drink and the oxygen we breathe today.
Astronomer Per Bergman explains:
"We were really excited to discover the signatures of hydrogen peroxide with APEX. We knew from laboratory experiments which wavelengths to look for, but the amount of hydrogen peroxide in the cloud is just one molecule for every ten billion hydrogen molecules, so the detection required very careful observations. We don't understand yet how some of the most important molecules here on Earth are made in space. But our discovery of hydrogen peroxide with APEX seems to be showing us that cosmic dust is the missing ingredient in the process.
There's still a lot we don't know about water and oxygen's origins - but its definitely looking like we wouldn't even exist without a whole heap of cosmic dust clouds.