We begin 2017 with a photo celebration showcasing how the most abundant and oldest element in our universe acts as an essential building block for everything we see. From star nurseries located millions of light-years away to the water in your glass, hydrogen is the omnipresent element, giving us life and energy. We use some awe-inspiring pictures from NASA to highlight the multiple forms that hydrogen assumes around the cosmos.
The short trip starts 13-billion light-years away and ends a few inches away from your eyes. We hope you enjoy the journey.
Deep Space: Everything that Shines is Hydrogen
Among the most colorful deep space images ever captured by the Hubble telescope, called “Hubble Ultra Deep Field,” is a tiny portion of the sky that reveals approximately 10,000 galaxies situated a whopping 13-billion light-years away. The hydrogen gas that fuels the stars in the first galaxies to appear a few hundred-million-years after the Big Bang lets us peek into what the early, primordial universe looked like. Most of these galaxies are probably gone by now—with each exploding supernova liberating the elements that were “cooked” inside those stars, which make up the planets we see today.
Ultra Deep Field. Hubble Space Telescope. Exposures were taken between 2003 and 2004.
If you’ve ever wondered how stars are born, here are two pictures of baby suns emerging from clouds of hydrogen and dust. These two images show two different structures, nebulas and gas columns, which give birth to new stars. Both of these pictures were captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble Space Telescope image of Nebula NGC 604, which lies in the neighboring spiral galaxy M33, located 2.7-million light-years away in the constellation Triangulum.
Nebulas like this one are the nurseries of stars all over the universe. Nebulas were first observed by Ptolemy and recorded in his Almagest around the year 150 AD. The name comes from “nebulous” because he noted that stars were covered by “a little cloud.” His recordings of that same cloudiness also refer to observations he made of our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda. The bright dots inside the cloud of hydrogen gas in this image, some 2.7-million years into the past, are new infant stars born mostly from hydrogen and helium; the small remainder, or space dust, includes all the other elements.
Column of cool molecular hydrogen gas (two atoms of hydrogen in each molecule) and dust in the Eagle Nebula.
This star-forming region is a “column” of molecular hydrogen gas that incubates new stars in the Eagle Nebula, located 7,000 light-years away in the constellation Serpens. NASA explains that the pillar is slowly eroding away by the ultraviolet light from nearby hot stars, a process called “photoevaporation.” As it erodes, small globules of dense gas buried within the cloud are uncovered. Inside some of them are embryonic stars that will eventually emerge as the hydrogen and dust photoevaporate.
As stars emerge from their hydrogen gas nurseries, the material that surrounds them creates rotating disks called “protoplanetary disks.” Discovered with the Hubble in 1992, they are embryonic solar systems that will eventually form planets around the star. The image below is part of the Orion Nebula, a mere 2.5 light-years away, and can actually be seen with the naked eye or with simple binoculars on clear winter nights in the Northern hemisphere (you can see it today if it’s not cloudy!).
Small portion of the Orion Nebula. Most of the shining stars include protoplanetary disks that will become solar systems.
Water Oceans Cover Moons the Size of Mars
Hydrogen takes a more life-giving form as we get closer to Earth. Water, once thought to be exclusive to our orb, seems to be quite common in the solar system. NASA’s probes discovered several moons on Saturn that harbor huge water oceans that flow deep under hundreds of kilometers of ice. The image below shows Enceladus, an icy moon captured by the Cassini spacecraft. The probe dove through the moon’s plume of icy spray and confirmed that the ice is made of water. Below the ice, water stays liquid due to the moon’s active hot core, which is caused by the tidal gravity of Saturn.
The south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus as captured by the Cassini space probe.
An “Invisible” Element that Surrounds Us
Closer to the Sun inside the “habitable zone,” defined as “the orbital region around a star in which an Earth-like planet can possess liquid water on its surface and possibly support life,” lies our blue planet. Here too, hydrogen rules. Because it bonds easily with other elements, most of the hydrogen on our planet is water. Despite its being the most abundant of all elements, hydrogen was not discovered until the 17th century when scientists noticed a “flammable gas” that burned in certain chemical reactions.
Life-giving water on a planet full of hydrogen.
Because of its abundance and universal availability, the hydrogen in water is, in fact, the largest potential source of energy we have. At Joi Scientific we look forward to continue our steady progress towards our goal of realizing Hydrogen 2.0: clean and available hydrogen fuel, produced from water, anytime, anywhere.
Cheers to this New Year; may 2017 bring you much joy and prosperity!
Nature upside down through a water glass. Photographed by Christopher Michel. New Zealand, 2015.
– Silicon Valley photographer Christopher Michel.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.