Washington: Astronomers have discovered
what they claim is 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, a team at California Institute of
Technology has found a mass of water vapour that`s at least
140 trillion times that of all the water in the world`s oceans
combined, and 100,000 times more massive than the sun.
Quasar is one of the brightest and most violent
objects in the cosmos.
Because the quasar is so far away, its light has taken
12 billion years to reach Earth. The observations therefore
reveal a time when the universe was just 1.6 billion years
old, say the astronomers.
"The environment around this quasar is unique
in that it`s producing this huge mass of water. It`s another
demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe,
even at very earliest times," team leader Matt Bradford said.
In fact, the astronomers studied a particular quasar
called APM 08279+5255, which harbours a black hole 20 billion
times more massive than the sun and produces as much energy as
a thousand trillion suns.
Since astronomers expected water vapour to be present
even in the early universe, the discovery of water is not
itself a surprise, Bradford says.
There`s water vapour in the Milky Way, although the
total amount is 4,000 times less massive than in the quasar,
as most of the Milky Way`s water is frozen in the form of ice,
says the team.
Nevertheless, water vapour is an important trace gas
that reveals the nature of the quasar. In this particular
quasar, the water vapour is distributed around the black hole
in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of lightyears and its
presence indicates that the gas is unusually warm and dense by
The findings are to be published in an upcoming issue
of the `Astrophysical Journal Letters`.