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NASA scientists discover oxygen in space

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Oxygen was detected by the Herschel telescope in the Orion nebula, proving that the observatory could be used to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

We may take oxygen for granted as it makes up 20 percent of the air on earth. But in space, hunting for traces of oxygen has long left astronomers scratching their heads. Scientists have tried everything from using balloons and telescopes. While the Swedish Odin telescope spotted the oxygen molecule four years ago, it seemed like a one-off affair in need of some verification.

Now for the first time, NASA scientists announce finding oxygen in space. The Herschel Space Observatory’s large telescope and infrared detectors picked up the chemical signature of oxygen in the Orion star-forming complex.

“Oxygen gas was discovered in the 1770s, but it’s taken us more than 230 years to finally say with certainty that this very simple molecule exists in space,” Paul Goldsmith, a NASA scientist, said in a statement.

So where did the oxygen come from? The scientists believe the oxygen the telescope detected was formed after starlight heated icy grains and released water.

“The observatory gives astronomers an innovative tool to look at a whole new set of wavelengths where the tell-tale signature of oxygen maybe hiding,” NASA’s Herschel program scientist Bill Danchi said in the news release.

There might be more oxygen hiding in the universe. If you don't have a tool to detect it, how can you find it in the first place?

via Herschel Telescope Detects Oxygen Molecules in Space [NASA]

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure