July 25th, 2011
Econintersect: NASA reports that a team of American scientists plus one from Japan have found the largest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. It is also the most distant. The reservoir is associated with a quasar 12 billion light-years away and amounts to 140 trillion times all the earth's ocean water. According to Wikipedia, a quasar is very high energy compact region of matter surrounding a supermassive black hole. Black holes are points in the universe where matter condenses under enormous gravitation force to release vast amounts of energy.
Follow up:From the NASA report:
Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe, but had not detected it this far away before. There's water vapor in the Milky Way, although the total amount is 4,000 times less than in the quasar, because most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in ice.
Water vapor is an important trace gas that reveals the nature of the quasar. In this particular quasar, the water vapor is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years in size (a light-year is about six trillion miles). Its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation, and that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is at a chilly minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth's atmosphere, it's still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what's typical in galaxies like the Milky Way.
Measurements of the water vapor and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, suggest there is enough gas to feed the black hole until it grows to about six times its size. Whether this will happen is not clear, the astronomers say, since some of the gas may end up condensing into stars or might be ejected from the quasar.
The caption photo shows an artistic representation of a quasar. The NASA picture below depicts anothor artist's conceptualization of a quasar: