Physics Professor Tad Thurston speaks on water issues

December 3, 2015 Latest, News Print Print
Tad Thurston

Physics Professor Tad Thurston

Physics Professor Tad Thurston said the source of water on the Earth is a scientific mystery. It may have come from volcanic acid when the planet was first formed or it could have come from asteroids outside our solar system.

About 30 people attended Thurston’s speech entitled “The Origins of Water” on campus Nov. 4. He was one of several experts who gave talks about water as part of the OCCC library reading program, focused on a book called “Water Matters.”

Thurston said that water is just small molecules. Each molecule of water contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

“The molecules attract each other at little bit when they’re close, which makes it a liquid,” he said.

“We know where the hydrogen and oxygen atoms came from individually (the Big Bang and massive stars, respectively), but we aren’t quite sure where the water itself originated”

They do know that two of the atoms that make up water come from the hydrogen atoms which were present on Earth from the beginning.

He said the oxygen is completely different because those atoms come from the stars.

When stars die they tend to blow up, which generates oxygen. That is where the air that we breathe comes from, Thurston said.

All the water could have been sent to the Earth from the sun’s cloud that was surrounding it eons ago, Thurston said. The clouds in outer space are always important for the stars and the planets because the clouds are what help form the planets.

“In the last 15 years we have found 2,000 planets circling close to their stars,” Thurston said. “There are all different types like Jupiter which is big and also small ones like the Earth.”

Europa is a moon of Jupiter that also has water, but it is water that is frozen. Thurston said that Europa’s water under the frozen crust has gotten warmer over time.

He believes that the cracks on Europa are over top of an ocean underneath the surface. He has concluded that the ocean would be about 15 miles deep under Europa’s crust.

Asteroids have the same type of water as the water that he believes is on the moon Europa.

So far, Thurston said, scientists are thinking the asteroids may be the source of Earth’s water or oceans and not the comets.

On the other hand, Thurston said, astronomers have decided there are two different types of comets. There are comets that come from way out of outer space and transform into clouds that pass all the way from Neptune.

Those comets have glacial forms of water that stay in that rock until it is ready to explode and dissolve.

Thurston believes that water also might have come from the Earth’s volcanoes and their smoke. When a volcano starts to erupt, the smoke that comes out of it is very thick and contains thick clouds of water. When the smoke is in the air, it can join with hydrogen and dissolve quickly, turning into water.

Thurston believes that may be another explanation for how the ocean was made.

Students who want more information can reach Thurston at

Free copies of the book “Water Matters” are available in the library.

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