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Oxygen In Space? 'Breathable' Oxygen Molecules Found By Herschel Telescope

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OXYGEN IN SPACE
Herschel found the molecules in a dense patch of gas and dust adjacent to star-forming regions in the Orion nebula. Astronomers suspect that newborn stars heated nearby icy grains, releasing water, which was then converted to oxygen. In other parts of clouds, where oxygen molecules are not detected, the oxygen may be locked up in the icy grains. The inset is an artist's concept of a collection of oxygen molecules, where two connected balls represent two oxygen atoms bound together as an oxygen | ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists are saying that for the first time, they've found proof of the oxygen molecule in space.

This new find, some 230 years since the discovery of oxygen gas, marks the first time the life-giving molecule has ever been found in deep space, according to NASA. For decades, researchers have used balloons, as well as grounded and space-based telescopes, to try and spot the elusive molecule in space.

From NASA:

Individual atoms of oxygen are common in space, particularly around massive stars. But molecular oxygen, which makes up about 20 percent of the air we breathe, has eluded astronomers until now.

In 2007, the Swedish Odin telescope may have also spotted the molecule, but the find could not be confirmed. This time, the Herschel Telescope seems to have definitively made the discovery.

According to the BBC, the find will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

While oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe, the molecular form, consisting of just two atoms, had never before been seen in space. These molecules were found in a star-forming part of the constellation of Orion, according to the BBC. The Discover Magazine blog explains that the discovered oxygen "may have formed after starlight heated the dust and released water, which then broke down into the detected oxygen molecules."

The Herschel Telescope is credited for another amazing discovery earlier in the summer, when it spotted a star shooting "intense water jets" out into space. That discovery may one day play a large part in helping scientists determine the life cycle of stars and protostars.

This article has been corrected to clarify that oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe.

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