Astronomers Find Largest, Most Distant Reservoir of Water That Is Equivalent to 140 Trillion Times All the Water in the World’s Ocean

A water reserve the size of 140 trillion oceans lurks in a distant supermassive black hole, the Universe’s largest deposit of water ever found – 4,000 times the amount found in the Milky Way. Two teams of astronomers discovered this amount of water 12 billion light-years away, where it appears as vapor dispersed across hundreds of light-years.

The reservoir was discovered in the gaseous area of a quasar, which is a brilliant compact region at the center of a galaxy powered by a black hole. This discovery shows that water can be found throughout the Universe, even at the very beginning.

”The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.” Bradford leads one of the teams that made the discovery. His team’s research is partially funded by NASA and appears in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Water vapor was expected to be present even in the early, distant universe, but it had never been detected this far away before. The Milky Way contains water vapor, but the total amount is 4,000 times less than in the quasar because most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in ice. The light from the quasar (specifically, the APM 08279+5255 quasar in the constellation Lynx) took 12 billion years to reach Earth, indicating that this mass of water existed when the universe was only 1.6 billion years old.

The Z-Spec instrument at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii was used by one group, while the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps was used by the other.

Water vapor is an important trace gas that reveals the quasar’s nature. Water vapor is distributed around the black hole in this quasar in a gaseous region hundreds of light-years in size (a light-year is about six trillion miles). Its presence indicates that the quasar is emitting X-rays and infrared radiation into the gas, and that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and 300 trillion times denser than Earth’s atmosphere, it is still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what is typical in galaxies like the Milky Way.

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Astronomers Find Largest, Most Distant Reservoir of Water That Is Equivalent to 140 Trillion Times All the Water in the World’s Ocean

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