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article imageScientists discover the universe's oldest, largest mass of water

By Andrew Moran     Jul 24, 2011 in Science
Pasadena - Astronomers at the University of Maryland have discovered the largest and oldest mass of water in the universe. It's a 12-billion-year-old cloud located near a supermassive black hole and contains 140 trillion times more water than Earth's oceans.
NASA announced Friday that two teams of astronomers at the University of Maryland discovered the largest and oldest mass of water that has been detected by scientists, according to a NASA news release. Scientists are dubbing this finding as “unique.”
The water vapour is 140 trillion times the amount of all of our planet’s oceans and 34 billion times the mass of the Earth. It surrounds and feeds a large black hole, identified as a quasar – a quasar is a luminous, active nucleus – that is more than 12 billion light-years away.
Although scientists did expect water vapour to be present at the early stages of the dawning of our universe – there is water vapour in our Milky Way galaxy but it is frozen in ice – many had not believed that it would be found that far away.
“Because the light we are seeing left this quasar more than 12 billion years ago, we are seeing water that was present only some 1.6 billion years after the beginning of the Universe,” said Alberto Bolatto, the study co-author at the University of Maryland, in a statement. “This discovery pushes the detection of water 1 billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.”
Furthermore, this finding suggests that the quasar is showering the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation, which will lead to warmth and density. Although the gas’ temperature is -53 degrees Celsius (-63 degrees Fahrenheit), it is still five times hotter than most galaxies.
“The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it's producing this huge mass of water,” said NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist in Pasadena, California, Matt Bradford. “It's another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”
With the amount of gas feeding the black hole, it is estimated that there will be enough gas for the black hole to grow six times its size.
More about Water, Universe, university of maryland, quasars, Supermassive black hole
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