August 14th: Amazing Water!

Date: August 14, 2010

Title: Amazing Water!


Podcaster: Todd Gonzales

Description: A very basic lesson of what makes up the water molecule, how it ties to Astronomy and what happens when it is transformed into pure energy.

Bio: I was born and raised in California and currently live in Hesperia. In august I will be chasing my degree for teaching science by attending NAU in Flagstaff Arizona. I love Astronomy, Geology or any science that can keep me outdoors in the fresh air and warm sun.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Shaun Gonzales. If you appreciate looking at a clear night sky then you probably appreciate the open wilderness in the Mojave Desert. To keep up to date on issues affecting the Mojave Desert, visit the Mojave Desert Blog at You can track government, business, and non-profit activities that impact the pristine, but threatened open vistas of the Mojave.


Amazing Water (August 14th, 2010)
By: Todd Gonzales
Hello, and welcome to another episode of 365 Days of Astronomy for August 14, 2010. I’m your host, Todd Gonzales. If you managed to catch who this podcast is sponsored by, you may have noticed that this episode is sponsored by my brother, Shaun Gonzales, and his blog about the Mojave Desert. Today’s episode is going to deal with, a lot with, a specific molecule that is important in both astronomy and the Mojave Desert. You guessed it…water. Water plays a key part in life on earth and in astronomy. Some of you are probably asking yourself, “Todd, what does water have to do with supernovae, giant impacts, and the solar system? You know, the cool stuff?” Well, have no fear listeners, water is involved in all those astronomically cool things. The first thing I need you to do before I go on with this podcast, though, is get a liter of water, whether it be in a plastic bottle or in a liter-sized glass. If you can’t get a liter then any amount of water will do. It’s just for a demonstration purpose. So go get the water. Feel free to press pause. Alright. Let’s take a look at that water bottle. Look at the water inside the bottle. We need to know a few basics about that water. First. We learn that water molecule is composed of three atoms – two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The hydrogen atom has been around for a long time. It’s the most abundant element in the universe composing of over 97% of the atoms in the universe. Hydrogen got its start not long after the Big Bang. But what about oxygen? Oxygen didn’t start making its way into the universe until the first supernovae. Mostly created and fused in more massive stars, it would be ejected when those stars imploded as supernova. So, oxygen in water and in the air we breathe has slowly but surely made its way here via dying stars. What a cool thought. To imagine that you are breathing in atoms or even drinking atoms of oxygen that were ejected from other star systems billions and billions and billions of years ago. So, the atoms that make up the water have had a very long journey. But how did the water get here? The answer: comets. Apparently, bonding hydrogen to oxygen is a fairly easy process. So, water gathers fairly easily in large frozen masses known as comets. Comets then brought the water here to earth during the Great Bombardment, a period of time in the Solar System where large masses of debris were still moving around and settling. Unfortunately, this would have been a bad time for life to start, but a great time for oceans. So, I guess it’s safe to assume that the water bottle sitting in front of you is composed of atoms that are much older than the planet, regardless of the date on the cap. Now that we have some basic understanding of the history of water, what about now? What’s going on with the water here on earth now? In 5th grade, we learned that water here on earth moves in a cycle. It may also change from liquid to gas to solid. But regardless of what state water is in, it eventually evaporates, accumulates, precipitates, condensates, or percolates. Ecosystems like the Mojave Desert, for example, depend heavily on this cycle of water, this water cycle. Now, since water moves in a cycle it can’t really be destroyed, but it can be polluted and used faster than it can replenish itself. This is where we run into problems with water shortages and this is why droughts make such a huge impact on agriculture. It takes time for water to move in its cycle. Eventually, the water in your water bottle will become rain again. This being said, the cool part about that water in your water bottle is that it was, more than likely, lapped up by a thirsty dinosaur or sapped up by a thirsty ancient tree, or locked away for years in a beautiful opal. Either way, that normal boring water in that bottle in front of you has one amazing story to tell. So, water really isn’t that boring. As a matter of fact it covered that question earlier. Water was involved in supernovas, great impacts with the comets, and is seen pretty much throughout the solar system, in comets, on Mars, our moon, and other moons. Now that you probably have new admiration for that bottle of water sitting in front of you, I’m now going to move on to the last part of this podcast. I’m about to explain what would happen if we were able to convert all that water in front of you into energy using one of Einstein’s equations E=mc2, a small part of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Ok. First, the mass of the water inside that bottle. One milliliter weighs one gram. And one liter of water contains a thousand milliliters. Therefore, one liter of water weighs a thousand grams or one kilogram. So mass equals one kilogram. But what about the speed of light? The equation reads E=mc2, m being the one kilogram, c2 meaning the speed of light squared. For this equation, the speed of light in meters would be easier. 300 million meters per second is the speed of light in meters. We have to square that. So 300 million times 300 million equals 90 quadrillion meters per second. So, energy, which we will measure in Joules, equals 90 quadrillion Joules. 90 quadrillion. Man, that’s a big number. What does it look like? Well, imagine a 90 followed by 15 zeroes. That’s a huge number. And a Joule. What is a Joule? Well, to take that 1 kilogram bottle of water and toss it in the air about 4 inches you consume 1 Joule of energy to do that. You baseball players take about 100 Joules to throw a baseball. But one Joule of energy expended continuously for 1 second of time is a unit of power we’re familiar with called a watt. One liter of water converted into energy via Einstein’s formula could power a one watt light bulb for 90 quadrillion seconds. 90 quadrillion seconds is still a big number, so we’ll convert that to hours. That equals about 25 trillion hours. But of course one watt, a one watt light bulb, is very dim. So, what about a 100 watt light bulb instead? Well, that burns energy about 100 times faster. So, the energy in that water bottle would only last about 250 billion hours. In that water bottle there is enough potential energy from 1 kilogram of water that could power a 100 watt lightbulb for 28.5 million years. Wow! Energy crisis over. With the right technology, which we don’t have yet, imagine how much energy we can unlock from 1 kilogram of water. And it doesn’t have to be just water. It can be any form of matter. A cell phone. A rock. A computer. An iPOD. Anything that is normal matter can be converted to energy. So, I guess the moral of the story is…Drink your water. Keep the cycle moving. ‘Cause it’s not just good for the universe. It’s also good for you.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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2 Responses to August 14th: Amazing Water!

  1. Cindy Bergstrom August 30, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    Thank You so much…even old dogs learn new stuff..I enjpoyed this very much. I will be back for more tomorrow!

  2. Tanya December 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    I enjoyed your story and how you tried to pull it all together, but you really lost me when you say that water is not destroyed. The process of photosynthesis takes energy, CO2 and H2O and produces C6H12O6 and O2. When cellular respiration occurs in plants and animals, oxygen and sugar produce energy, carbon dioxide and water—but it is unlikely that the same hydrogen and oxygen atoms are paired back up together.

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