Science sheds light on watery Sun

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The Independent Online
There is no water on the Moon, scientists have decided - but there is on the Sun. New studies by a team of researchers in Britain, Canada and the US have found that sunspots, patches on the solar surface which are darker than the rest, actually contain water - albeit at the extremely high temperature of 3000C.

Sunspots are often described as "storms" on the Sun, though astronomers are puzzled as to their exact nature. They have been observed since medieval times, and some people have suggested that their appearance can affect the Earth'sweather.

Water could only be identified on the Sun after supercomputers were used to model the behaviour of the substance at very high temperatures.

Spectrometers pointed at the Sun - which monitor the electromagnetic radiation given off by atomic bonds as they vibrate - give results identical to those predicted by the computer models, showing that water molecules are present in sunspot areas.

Though the stellar surface is normally far too hot for any molecules to be created, the team realised that it would be possible for hydrogen and oxygen to come together in sunspots, which are thousands of degrees cooler than the rest of the surface, to form molecules of water.

The latest finding could actually be useful for more earthbound pursuits. The researchers who made the discovery think that the same technique that they developed could be used to detect forest fires - because the water boiling off from the burning leaves would have a similar radio signature to that found emitted from the sunspots.

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