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WATER SPOTTED ON THE SUN

The hot summer sun blazes down mercilessly. Water, you cry -- if only you could find water to save you from the relentless heat.

Try looking up. The sun itself contains water, new research suggests.

And while you can't slake your thirst with a little Evian from the sun, the presence of water there indicates that molecules are much better at surviving in extreme environments than scientists had thought.

Most molecules just can't survive on the surface of the sun. Temperatures of around 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit cause them to break up into atoms; H2O, for example, normally splits into two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

But the new work shows that H2O manages to survive in relatively cool sunspots, where the temperature reaches only around 6,300 degrees.

A team of Russian, Canadian, U.S. and British researchers had suspected for several years that water could exist in sunspots. They knew, for example, that molecules could remain intact on the surfaces of cool stars with temperatures resembling those of sunspots. And in 1995, the researchers showed that the infrared spectrum of light coming from hot water in the laboratory looked very similar to the spectrum of a sunspot.

Now the researchers have directly observed the distinctive markers of hot water in the spectrum of light coming from the sun. They reported their results last week in the journal Science.

Takeshi Oka of the University of Chicago wrote in an accompanying commentary that water on the sun is "quite incredible, although completely believable after seeing the data."

-- Dallas Morning News

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