Astronomers have reported the discovery of a huge water vapor cloud floating around a black hole in space. The cloud is so big that scientists estimate it holds 140 trillion times the mass of water in the Earth's oceans, and is approximately 10 billion light years away.
The find is the largest discovery of water anywhere in history, and has been found in a distant “quasar.”
The Carnegie Institution, one of the groups behind the findings, has said, “Since astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early universe, the discovery of water is not itself a surprise.”
The statement added: “Quasars contain massive black holes that steadily consuming a surrounding disk of gas and dust; as it eats, the quasar spews out amounts of energy.”
The find has come as part of a quasar study called “APM 08279+5255”, and the black hole under observation is 20 billion times greater than the sun.
NASA scientist Matt Bradford has said, “The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it's producing this huge mass of water. It's another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”
Research on the discovery is expected to be published in a coming issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The observations by NASA commenced three years ago in 2008, and have been made using an instrument called "Z-Spec" at the California Institute of Technology's Submillimeter Observatory. The instrument is a 33-foot (10-meter) telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Follow-up observations were made with the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), an array of radio dishes in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.
Astronomers and scientists from across the country and world have been involved in the research, and have come from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Institute for Space and Astronautical Science in Japan were involved.
The research team was comprised of a wide array of international talent. The Carnegie Institution's Eric Murphy headed up the study. Funding for Z-Spec was provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Research Corporation and the partner institutions.