Astronomers spot huge space reservoir holding 140 trillion times water in Earth's oceans

Gigantic water system surrounds giant black hole 12 billion light years away

massive space water tank
Astronomers said they have spotted what they called the largest and most distant reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world's oceans, surrounds a huge -- 20 billion times more massive than the Sun -- feeding black hole more than 12 billion light-years away.

Two teams of astronomers have been looking at the black hole or quasar called APM 08279+5255, one from the Caltech's Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii supported by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the other from and the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps.

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A quasar is powered by an enormous black hole that steadily consumes a surrounding disk of gas and dust. As it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy.  Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe, but had not detected it this far away before. There's water vapor in the Milky Way, although 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 researchers stated.

In APM 08279+52255, the water vapor is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years in size -- a light-year is about six trillion miles -- the researchers stated.  "Its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation, and that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is at a minus 53 degrees Celsius and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth's atmosphere, it's still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what's typical in galaxies like the Milky Way," the researchers said.

Measurements of the water vapor and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, hint there is enough gas to feed the black hole until it grows to about six times its size.

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