“…The water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes…”—Leonardo da Vinci
“The story of water reaches from every individual cell to encompass the entire cosmos,” says scientist and philosopher Dr. Masaru Emoto in his bestselling book The Hidden Messages in Water. He adds that, “to understand water is to understand the cosmos, the marvels of nature, and life itself.”
According to a theory first proposed by physicist Louis A. Frank (1987) at the University of Iowa, water arrived on Earth after traveling through space. In 1984 scientists at the Goddard Space Center discovered an astonishing array of molecules in interstellar space that included those found in living tissue.
Using NASA’s Polar Visible Imaging System (VIS), a research team led by Frank in 1996 detected objects that streaked toward Earth, disintegrated at high altitudes and deposited large clouds of water vapor in the upper atmosphere. The images showed that Earth is being bombarded by five to thirty small comets per minute, or thousands per day, according to Frank. Called “dirty snowballs” these small comets, the size of a small house, break up in the upper atmosphere some 600 to 15,000 miles above the Earth, said Frank, who posited that “this gentle cosmic rain—which possibly contains simple organic compounds—may well have nurtured the development of life on our planet.”
“It is a shocking notion,” wrote Washington Post correspondent Kathy Sawyer in Astronomy (1998). “Radiation-blasted, black-jacketed snowballs the size of houses swarming out of the cosmic void every day, plowing into Earth’s atmosphere and pancaking explosively into clouds of vapor that fall as gentle rains. Over billions of years these invaders might have filled Earth’s oceans and provided the seeds of life.”
While Frank’s theory was met with great skepticism by the scientific community, it was later confirmed by Robert Conway, planetary physicist at the Naval Research laboratory, who announced on August 11, 1997, that his ultraviolet telescope on the Discovery Space Shuttle had detected unexpectedly high levels of hydroxyl in the upper atmosphere. NASA’s Polar spacecraft also provided evidence in May 1997 that Earth’s upper atmosphere is being sprayed by a steady stream of water-bearing objects.
In December 1998, a specially designed satellite called the Submillimeter-Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) was launched to detect radio waves emitted by water molecules in space. In an interview with water researcher William E. Marks, the project’s chief scientist Gary Melnick of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge admitted that, “we’re seeing water everywhere. Every region we’ve looked at so far contains water.” To date, evidence of water has been discovered on our Moon, Sun, Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and in the “empty” spaces between the stars (interstellar space). In addition, the Oort Cloud, a huge watery cloud surrounding our solar system and made of trillions of comets that contain ice and gases, is thought to be at least as old as the solar system. This suggests that water was present at or before the creation of our solar system.
Researchers at the University of Chicago reported water-soluble salt in a meteorite that fell near Monahans Texas in 1999 (Clayton, 1999). The meteorite contained purple crystals of halite (rock salt) that contained miniscule pockets of water with bubbles, which, according to planetary scientist Michael Zolensky, “indicated that water flowed on whatever parent body spawned the meteorite. It is possible,” he added, “that the water…could date back to 4.5 billion years or perhaps before the creation of our solar system.” Zolensky worked with other scientists on another chrondite meteorite discovered on Tagish Lake, a frozen lake in British Columbia, Canada. According to Peter G. Brown (2000) of the University of Western Ontario, the Tagish Lake meteorite “may be one of the most primitive solar system materials yet studied.”
Earth’s water and its connection to the cosmos can be inferred through the meteor trails we see blazing across the night sky. Scientists have estimated that at least one hundred tons of cosmic dust and litter enter the Earth’s atmosphere every day. So much cosmic material has come to Earth that its mass is estimated to have doubled since its origin.
During the recent European Space Agency (ESA) landing of the craft Philae on Comet 67P on November 12, 2014, instruments detected organic compounds and confirmed that the comet’s surface was largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer. Scientists expect to gain insights into the possible role of comets to the chemical building blocks of the primordial mix from which life evolved on Earth.
Since we are mostly water, you could say that we all come from outer space. When you gaze out into the depths of outer space on a clear night, what do you see? What do you feel?
Recently, when I was driving to my home in the pitch-black night of a quiet Nova Scotia coastal road, I felt compelled to stop the car and look out at the night sky. I remember stopping in the middle of the road, turning off my headlights and sliding open the ceiling window of my Jetta and poking my head out to gaze straight up. The heavens beamed with stars. I saw the Milky Way, its girdle stretching across the expansive darkness from horizon to horizon. I saw pin pricks of red, green, blue and purple. I even glimpsed a shooting star; it streaked across like a comet. I can’t explain exactly how I felt, except that I too was beaming for no reason than I was mesmerized by the grandness of it all. And how, somehow, it felt like home.
Ten years before Frank’s discovery, I participated in a meditative session inside a desensitization tank at the Bodie Tree in Vancouver, B.C. Inside the tank, my body floated in warm saltwater in pitch darkness and in total quiet. I don’t know how much time actually passed but I soon felt like I was floating in space, revolving and twirling in all directions (when I was in fact perfectly still). In my mind’s eye, I witnessed fantastic galaxies and nebulae all around me. It was spectacular and I knew that in some form I was actually there.
Was I water, remembering?
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.