Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Most Distant Detection Of Water In The Universe

Date:
April 26, 2009
Source:
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Summary:
Astronomers have found the most distant signs of water in the Universe to date. The water vapor is thought to be contained in a jet ejected from a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy, named MG J0414+0534.

The image is made from HST data and shows the four lensed images of the dusty red quasar, connected by a gravitational arc of the quasar host galaxy. The lensing galaxy is seen in the centre, between the four lensed images.
Credit: John McKean/HST Archive data

Astronomers have found the most distant signs of water in the Universe to date. The water vapour is thought to be contained in a jet ejected from a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy, named MG J0414+0534

Dr John McKean of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) will be presenting the discovery at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Hatfield on Wednesday 22nd April.

The water emission is seen as a maser, where molecules in the gas amplify and emit beams of microwave radiation in much the same way as a laser emits beams of light. The faint signal is only detectable by using a technique called gravitational lensing, where the gravity of a massive galaxy in the foreground acts as a cosmic telescope, bending and magnifying light from the distant galaxy to make a clover-leaf pattern of four images of MG J0414+0534. The water maser was only detectable in the brightest two of these images.

Dr McKean said, "We have been observing the water maser every month since the detection and seen a steady signal with no apparent change in the velocity of the water vapour in the data we've obtained so far. This backs up our prediction that the water is found in the jet from the supermassive black hole, rather than the rotating disc of gas that surrounds it."

The radiation from the water maser was emitted when the Universe was only about 2.5 billion years old, a fifth of its current age.

"The radiation that we detected has taken 11.1 billion years to reach the Earth. However, because the Universe has expanded like an inflating balloon in that time, stretching out the distances between points, the galaxy in which the water was detected is about 19.8 billion light years away," explained Dr McKean.

Although since the initial discovery the team has looked at five more systems that have not had water masers, they believe that it is likely that there are many more similar systems in the early Universe. Surveys of nearby galaxies have found that only about 5% have powerful water masers associated with active galactic nuclei. In addition, studies show that very powerful water masers are extremely rare compared to their less luminous counterparts. The water maser in MG J0414+0534 is about 10 000 times the luminosity of the Sun, which means that if water masers were equally rare in the early Universe, the chances of making this discovery would be improbably slight.

"We found a signal from a really powerful water maser in the first system that we looked at using the gravitational lensing technique. From what we know about the abundance of water masers locally, we could calculate the probability of finding a water maser as powerful as the one in MG J0414+0534 to be one in a million from a single observation. This means that the abundance of powerful water masers must be much higher in the distant Universe than found locally because I’m sure we are just not that lucky!" said Dr McKean.

The discovery of the water maser was made by a team led by Dr Violette Impellizzeri using the 100-metre Effelsberg radio telescope in Germany during July to September 2007. The discovery was confirmed by observations with the Expanded Very Large Array in the USA in September and October 2007. The team included Alan Roy, Christian Henkel and Andreas Brunthaler, from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Paola Castangia from Cagliari Observatory and Olaf Wucknitz from the Argelander Institute for Astronomy at Bonn University. The findings were published in Nature in December 2008.

The team is now analysing high-resolution data to find out how close the water maser lies to the supermassive black hole, which will give them new insights into the structure at the centre of active galaxies in the early Universe.

"This detection of water in the early Universe may mean that there is a higher abundance of dust and gas around the super-massive black hole at these epochs, or it may be because the black holes are more active, leading to the emission of more powerful jets that can stimulate the emission of water masers. We certainly know that the water vapour must be very hot and dense for us to observe a maser, so right now we are trying to establish what mechanism caused the gas to be so dense," said Dr McKean.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). The original article was written by Anita Heward. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C.M. Violette Impellizzeri, John P. McKean, Paola Castangia, Alan L. Roy, Christian Henkel, Andreas Brunthaler, & Olaf Wucknitz. A gravitationally lensed water maser in the early Universe. Nature, 2008; 456 (7224): 927 DOI: 10.1038/nature07544

Cite This Page:

Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Most Distant Detection Of Water In The Universe." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 April 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090422085756.htm>.
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). (2009, April 26). Most Distant Detection Of Water In The Universe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090422085756.htm
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Most Distant Detection Of Water In The Universe." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090422085756.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

AP (Sep. 1, 2014) — NASA reported the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, on August 24th. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. (Sept. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) — Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) — The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins