Water vapor may have been as abundant in some parts of space as it is today in the first billion years after the big bang, Discovery News reports. That’s much earlier than scientists had thought. (At first, only light elements like hydrogen and helium existed in the universe. Over time, the birth and death of stars would have generated the oxygen needed to form water, but then that oxygen would still have had to spread through the universe and bond with hydrogen.) The theoretical research, published online this month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, describes how the researchers studied early molecular clouds and found that water vapor could form in these very oxygen-poor environments, building up to levels similar to what’s found in our galaxy today within hundreds of millions of years.
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