NASA Just Found the Largest Water Reserve in the Universe, and It's Not on Earth – Teach Me About Science

The largest mass of water ever discovered in the universe is approximately 140 trillion times the water in Earth's oceans. The most surprising thing about all of this is that it is feeding a supermassive black hole!

The results 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 galactic nuclei, where a supermassive black hole pulls material from the surrounding disk – in other words, is fed. In some quasars, the black hole creates a jet that travels at nearly the speed of light.

Because light had to travel more than 12 billion years to reach our telescopes, we see water that existed only about 1.8 billion years after the Big Bang. Which makes this discovery the largest and oldest water reserve known to date.

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 is constantly consuming a disk of gas and dust surrounding it. While eating, the quasar emits huge amounts of energy. They are so incredibly luminous that they can be detected at enormous distances, with distant objects being relatively easy to spot.

Teams of astronomers studied a particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which contains a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the Sun, and produces energy equivalent to a billion suns. According to NASA. The water is in the form of vapor and is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region extending to hundreds of light-years in size. A light year is approximately 9.5 billion kilometers.

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“Its presence indicates that the quasar bathes the gas in X-ray and infrared light, and that the gas is unusually hot and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas has a cold temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and is 300 billion times less dense than Earth's atmosphere, however, is still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than normal 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. Although it's not clear, some of the gas may end up condensing into stars or being ejected from the quasar.

This is certainly still not in the minds of many, as Earth was long thought to be a unique and special place containing water. But water is everywhere, and in fact it is one of the most abundant molecules. Water is formed when two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom combine, so, in theory, there could be a lot of water in outer space.

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