Two teams of astronomers led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology have discovered the largest reservoir of water ever discovered in the universe. It is 30 billion trillion miles away from us.
Yes, you read correctly. The largest reservoir in the universe is found, more specifically in a quasar, one of the brightest and most violent objects in the universe.
The mass of water vapor is at least 140 trillion times greater than all the water in the world’s oceans combined.
Because the quasar is so far away, it took 12 billion years for its light to reach Earth. With the team’s observations revealing a time when the universe was only 1.6 billion years old.
“The environment around this quasar is unique in that it produces this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
“It is further evidence that water is widespread throughout the universe, even in the most ancient times.”
A quasar gets its energy from a massive black hole devouring a surrounding disk of gas and dust. As it eats, a quasar emits huge amounts of energy.
The discovery of water was not a surprise, as astronomers expect water vapor to exist even at the beginning of the universe. However, water vapor is an important trace gas that reveals the nature of the quasar.
This particular quasar showed water vapor distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region extending hundreds of light-years across (a light-year is about six trillion miles). Its presence indicates that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards.
According to astronomers, this discovery highlights the benefits of observing at millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths. This field has developed rapidly over recent decades, and to reach the full potential of this type of research, the study authors are now designing CCAT, a 25-meter telescope that will be built in Chile’s Atacama Desert. CCAT will allow astronomers to discover some of the oldest galaxies in the universe.
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