Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Farthest, largest water mass in universe discovered

Date:
July 22, 2011
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
An international team of astronomers has discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe.

An international team of astronomers led by the California Institute of Technology and involving the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe.

Related Articles


The distant quasar is one of the most powerful known objects in the universe and has an energy output of 1,000 trillion suns -- about 65,000 times that of the Milky Way galaxy. The quasar's power comes from matter spiraling into the central supermassive black hole, estimated at some 20 billion times the mass of our sun, said study leader Matt Bradford of Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Because the quasar -- essentially a voraciously feeding black hole -- is so far away, its light has taken 12 billion light years to arrive at Earth. Since one light year equals about 6 trillion miles, the observations reveal a time when the universe was very young, perhaps only 1.6 billion years old. Astronomers believe the universe was formed by the Big Bang roughly 13.6 billion years ago.

The water measured in the quasar is in the form of vapor and is the largest mass of water ever found, according to the researchers. The amount of water estimated to be in the quasar is at least 100,000 times the mass of the sun, equivalent to 34 billion times the mass of Earth.

In an astronomical context, water is a trace gas, but it indicates gas that is unusually warm and dense, said Bradford. "In this case, the water measurement shows that the gas is under the influence of the growing black hole, bathed in both infrared and X-ray radiation," he said.

"These findings are very exciting," said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn, a study co-author. "We not only detected water in the farthest reaches of the universe, but enough to fill Earth's oceans more than 100 trillion times."

The water measurement, together with measurements of other molecules in the vapor source, suggests there is enough gas present for the black hole to grow to about six times its already massive size, said Bradford. Whether it will grow to this size is not clear, however, as some of the gas may end up forming stars instead, or be ejected from the quasar host galaxy in an outflow.

In the Milky Way, the mass of gaseous water is at least 4,000 times smaller than that in the quasar, in part because most of the water in our own galaxy is frozen into ice. While the water vapor in the Milky Way is found only in a limited number of regions, a few light years in size or smaller, the water in the distant quasar appears to be distributed over hundreds of light years, said the researchers.

The discovery was made with a spectrograph called Z-Spec operating in the millimeter wavelengths -- found between the infrared and microwave wavelengths -- at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, a 10-meter telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, on the big island of Hawaii. Z-Spec's detectors are cooled to within 0.06 degrees Celsius of absolute zero in order to obtain the exquisite sensitivity required for these measurements.

"Breakthroughs are coming fast in millimeter and submillimeter technology, enabling us to study ancient galaxies caught in the act of forming stars and supermassive black holes," said CU-Boulder's Glenn, who is a co-principal investigator on the Z-Spec instrument development and a fellow at CU-Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. "The excellent sensitivity of Z-Spec and similar technology will allow astronomers to continue to make important and surprising findings related to distant celestial objects in the early universe, with implications for how our own Milky Way galaxy formed."

Confirmation for this important discovery came from images obtained by the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy, or CARMA, a sensitive array of radio dishes located in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California. The distant quasar under study is named APM 08279+5255.

The discovery highlights the utility of the millimeter and submillimeter band for astronomy, which has developed rapidly in the last two to three decades. To achieve the potential of this relatively new spectral range, astronomers, including the study authors, are now designing CCAT, a 25-meter telescope for the high Chilean Atacama desert. With CCAT astronomers will discover some of the earliest galaxies in the universe, and will be able to study their gas content via measurements of water as well as other important gas species, Glenn said.

In addition to Caltech, JPL and CU-Boulder, the Z-Spec collaboration includes the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan, the Observatories of the Carnegie Institute of Science and the University of Pennsylvania. Funding for Z-Spec was provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Research Corporation and partner institutions.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is operated under a contract from the National Science Foundation. CARMA was built and is operated by a consortium of universities with funding from a combination of state and private sources, as well as the National Science Foundation and its University Radio Observatory program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Farthest, largest water mass in universe discovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110722142103.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2011, July 22). Farthest, largest water mass in universe discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110722142103.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Farthest, largest water mass in universe discovered." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110722142103.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 16, 2014) NASA's Mars Curiosity rover finds methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic chemicals in the planet's soil, the latest hint that Mars was once suitable for microbial life. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies in China

Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies in China

AFP (Dec. 16, 2014) The Geminids meteor shower lights up the skies over the Changbai Mountains in northeast China. Duration: 01:03 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Defense Satellite Launches from California

Raw: Defense Satellite Launches from California

AP (Dec. 13, 2014) A U.S. defense satellite launched from California's central coast on Friday after weather delays caused by a major storm that drenched the state. (Dec. 13) Video provided by AP
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:

More Coverage


Astronomers Discover Largest and Most Distant Reservoir of Water Yet

July 22, 2011 Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. Looking from a distance of 30 billion trillion miles away into a quasar -- one of ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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