Knowledge Bomb: A Mega-ocean – in SPACE!

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (12 billion light years to be precise!)… scientists discovered the

A Supermassive Black Hole

single most distant and most massive cloud of water yet seen in the universe, at least so the astronomers say.

Hi folks, welcome to the first of what I’ve decided to call “knowledge bombs” where I’ll share something new and /or truly interesting concepts, discoveries and the like. I don’t know about you but far too few people happily learn and keep a truly open mind so I’d like to share from time-to-time any and all truly fascinating items I come across.

Does today’s topic/opening line catch your interest? Make you curious? Well I should hope so!

It turns out that this near-indescribably MASSIVE body of water exists not on any planet or anything of the sort but simply in space – and not only that, it surrounds a Quasar. For those that don’t know what that is exactly: A Quasar is essentially a super-massive black hole which are, simply put, gigantic black holes (ranging from hundreds of thousands to billions of solar-masses) and are believed to be at the core of most if not all galaxies. Quasars are among the brightest and most energetic objects in the universe, gravitationally consuming surrounding material while spewing out powerful jets of energy.

According to the research data provided, this mother-of-all-oceans would weigh in at about 40 billion times the mass of Earth and contains enough water to fill all the oceans on Earth – ALL OF THEM – about 140 trillion times over. Think on that. The sheer scale and size of that.

This artist's concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding black hole, similar to APM 08279+5255, where astronomers discovered huge amounts of water vapor. Gas and dust likely form a torus around the central black hole, with clouds of charged gas above and below. CREDIT: NASA/ESA

The scientists and astronomers who made this remarkable discovery, found the wet black hole using a spectrograph attached to the ten-meter Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Hawaii.

Dammit I need to find a new career…

I will say though, the thing that astounded me the most about this whole thing that really stuck in my head when I read this was more to do with how they found it than the actual finding itself. You see they found it by seeing the light that traveled from the massive object and the water-vapour cloud that has traveled all this way – now bear in mind that this light comes from 12 billion light-years away. That means that according to the calculations done by the scientists, we are seeing the reflection from the water that was there around that quasar a mere 1.6 billion years after The Big Bang. That’s how long water has existed in the universe, that’s how long this entire cloud has been in existence. How much has it changed since? Is it bigger? Smaller? Gone? Changed? Who knows!

Essentially, to quote one of the articles on this discovery:

Astronomers are hoping to use the find to study how large quantities of water in the young universe may have acted as efficient coolants of the interstellar medium—the thin gas and dust that exists between stars—possibly affecting star formation and the evolution of galaxies such as our Milky Way.

Anyhow, hope you guys enjoyed that as much as I did! See you around the interwebs folks, till next time: Cheers!

(If you were intrigued enough to want to know more, CLICK HERE)

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