Monday, July 25, 2011

The Largest, Most Distant Water Reservoir Found

This artist's concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding black hole, similar to APM 08279+5255, where astronomers discovered huge amounts of water vapor. Image credit: NASA/ESA 
More than 12 billion light years away sits a massive body of water surrounding a large, feeding black hole. The amount of water is equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water on Earth. It also shows an early abundance of water in the Universe, being 12 billion light years away means that the light from this event is 12 billion years old. Early for a 13.75 billion year old Universe.

Black holes that are active like this one are known as quasars. Known as APM 08279+5255, the black hole at the center is some 20 billion times more massive than our Sun. It also produces the energy of a thousand trillion suns, and early powerhouse in the Universe.

The water exists in the form of water vapor, a gas, around the black hole and its distribution can reveal details about the nature of the quasar. They can determine how the radiation from the quasar is heating the surrounding gas, which, by astronomical standards, is unusually warm and dense. At several hundred light years across, it is one order of magnitude or two denser and about 5 times hotter than water vapor found in a typical galaxy. It is still far from the comfort of Earth's atmosphere though, at a freezing -63 degrees Fahrenheit (-53 Celsius) and 300 trillion times less dense than the Earth's atmosphere.

[How can water that cold be a gas? That is entirely because of the density, since the particles of water are so far spread apart, they do not condense as the would into a solid under higher pressures (like the Earth's atmosphere).]

There is enough gas in this cloud for the black hole to grow about six times its current size. However, it is unclear if it would reach that far, some gas may be ejected from the quasar or form into stars.

The research is partially funded by NASA and the astronomer teams will be having their paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters later this year. You can read a little bit more about it in the NASA release.


17 comments:

Electric Addict said...

that's just an insane idea to wrap my head around

Atley said...

I don't get black holes. such a weird concept. I thought the progresson of a star was to get bigger and bigger then collapse and become a white/black dwarf or a turn into a black hole. so how does a burnt out star become a star again? though i could be wrong on more then one of the things i just stated. lol

Astronomy Pirate said...

No, you are almost right about that, Atley. The black hole won't become a star again. What was meant is that the dust cloud around the black hole could collapse in certain regions to become stars. The quasar itself is as big as a galaxy. If the majority of that becomes stars, then the black hole might level out. In fact, I am struck by the idea in my head right now that this could be an important step we are seeing in the formation of spiral galaxies. I'm actually considering of bringing this up to a couple people I know now that I think of it.

Anyways, it is possible for some burnt out stars to become stars again, white dwarfs are known to fluctuate immensely on this level if they are binary and rip material off of their companion star.

Jay said...

next up: life. :D

MRanthrope said...

my mind went blank after 140 trillion. literally, just stopped functioning!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I agree with MRanthrope my mind is blown when I read about things like this. Just a scale that is impossible to picture.

The Angry Lurker said...

That's a lot of aqua, amazing amount.

hit girl mellie said...

if only it were closer to earth, all of our problems would be gone.

The Dawg said...

Wow, that is almost more than you can comprehend.

ScottD said...

wow!

Melanie said...

So since water is there, what kind of alien creatures do you think are lurking about?

Shutterbug said...

Truly fascinating. and that is why the universe is so awesome! :D

Natural One said...

Where there's water, there's is life

Aaron M. Gipson said...

Screw the name "APM 08279+5255" I say we call it Courtney Love, which in ancient Sanskrit means "cold, dark, wet hole in the fabric of the universe that sucks in and destroys everything in its path".

But the thing is, we are only seeing an image of it as of 12 billion years ago. And this was way before the earth itself even formed. I'm very curious as to what is going on there now...

Gryt said...

Cold water vapor seems like it could have some sort of potential use on earth.

Internet Catch Of The Day said...

I wonder what it looks like now, since it is 12 billion light years away, we are looking back in time to what it looked like 12 billion years ago. I wonder if it has changed very much?

A Beer for the Shower said...

Mind: blown. I can't even begin to imagine how much water that is. Or its density.

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