Weird Water in Space is Electrically Charged
This galactic bubble is known as RCW 120. It lies about 4300 light-years away and has been formed by a star at its center. The star is not visible at these infrared wavelengths but pushes on the surrounding dust and gas with nothing more than the power of its starlight.
Credit: ESA/PACS/SPIRE/HOBYS Consortia

A new 'phase' of water that is electrically charged has been discovered in space for the first time.

The weird space water vapor was discovered in an interstellar dust cloud by the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory.

Unlike the three more familiar phases of water ? namely solid ice, liquid water and gaseous steam ? this newfound 'phase' doesn't occur naturally on Earth.

In the birth clouds surrounding young stars, ultraviolet light is pumping through the gas, and this irradiation can knock an electron out of the water molecule, leaving it with an electrical charge.

"This detection of ionized water vapor came as a surprise," said Arnold Benz of ETH Zurich in Switzerland. "It tells us that there are violent processes taking place during the early birth stages which lead to widespread energetic radiation throughout the cloud."

The detection of this weird form of water was announced Thursday during a major scientific symposium held at the European Space Agency (ESA), which runs the observatory, in Noordwijk, Netherlands.

The first scientific results from the Herschel observatory also included new views of massive star formation and a temperature reading of a frigid cloud of gas and dust, were released at the symposium.

Herschel launched in May 2009 alongside Europe's Planck observatory, which will detect the cosmic microwave background radiation of the universe.