NASA Just Discovered the Largest Deposit of Water in the Universe, and It’s Not on Earth – Teach Me About Science

The largest mass of water ever found in the universe is equivalent to about 140 trillion times the amount of water in Earth’s oceans. The most amazing thing about all this is that it powers a supermassive black hole!

These findings were presented by two teams of astronomers just over a decade ago. Water surrounds a massive active quasar black hole more than 12 billion light years away. Quasars are active galaxy nuclei in which a supermassive black hole is drawing material from the surrounding disk – in other words, it is feeding. In some quasars, the black hole creates a jet that shoots out at almost the speed of light.

Since light had to travel more than 12 billion years to reach our telescopes, we are seeing water that existed only about 1.8 billion years after the Big Bang. This makes this discovery the largest and oldest water reservoir known so far.

This artist’s concept shows a quasar similar to APM 08279+5255. (Credit: NASA/ESA).

The quasar is fed by a massive black hole that continuously swallows the disk of gas and dust that surrounds it. As it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy. They are incredibly bright that they can be detected even at great distances, with the most distant objects being relatively easy to detect.

According to NASA, teams of astronomers studied one particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which contains a supermassive black hole 20 billion times the size of the Sun and produces as much energy as a quadrillion Suns. Water exists in the form of vapor and is distributed over a gaseous region hundreds of light years in size around the black hole. One light year is equal to approximately 9.5 billion kilometers.

“Its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing in gas in X-ray and infrared radiation, and this gas is unusually hot and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) cold and 300 billion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, it is still five times hotter than normal and 10 to 100 times more dense. In galaxies like the Milky Way,” NASA officials write in a statement.

Based on measurements of water vapor and other molecules such as carbon monoxide, astronomers suggest there is enough gas to fuel the black hole until it grows to about six times its size. However this is not clear, as some of the gas may condense into stars or escape out of the quasar.

Surely this is still not in the minds of many people, because for a long time it was thought that the Earth was a unique and privileged place to have water. But water is everywhere, in fact, it is one of the most abundant molecules. Water is formed when two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom come together, so, in theory, there could be a lot of water in outer space.

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