When our satellites search for other planets that might harbor life, they always search for water. But now, for the first time, astronomers have detected around a burgeoning solar system a sprawling cloud of water vapor that’s cold enough to form comets, which could eventually deliver oceans to dry planets. And with oceans, life could spring up–or maybe migrate to the planet from another place.

Water is an essential ingredient for life. Scientists have found thousands of Earth-oceans’ worth of it within the planet-forming disk surrounding the star TW Hydrae. TW Hydrae is 176 light years away in the constellation Hydra and is the closest solar-system-to-be. Astronomer Ted Bergin says, "This tells us that the key materials that life needs are present in a system before planets are born. We expected this to be the case, but now we know it is because have directly detected it. We can see it."

The Earth may have gotten its water from a comet: Recent findings support the theory that comets delivered a significant portion of Earth’s oceans. Researchers found that the ice on a comet called Hartley 2 has the same chemical composition as our oceans.

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