Black Hole Holds Universe’s Biggest Water Supply

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Science and Technology

Mark Brown
Wired
July 25, 2011

Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever found in the universe. It’s 12 billion light years away, and holds at least 140 trillion times the amount of water in all the Earth’s oceans combined.

It manifests itself as a colossal mass of water vapor, hidden in the distant APM 08279+5255 quasar. Quasars are bright and violent galactic nuclei fueled by a supermassive black hole at their center.

This quasar holds a black hole that’s 20 billion times more massive than the sun, and after gobbling down dust and gas it belches out as much energy as a thousand trillion suns. The water vapor is spread around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light years.

“The environment around this quasar is unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” says Matt Bradford from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a press release.

“It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times,” adds Bradford in the release. As the light from this watery quasar took 12 billion years to reach Earth, the observations come from a time when the universe was only 1.6 billion years old.

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