An Ocean In Space? Here’s Why This News Is Viral Again

Astronomers have uncovered an extraordinary discovery, the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe, estimated to be around 12 billion years old. Although the find was originally made over a decade ago, it’s recently gone viral again, capturing the public’s imagination with its staggering scale and implications.

The discovery involved two dedicated teams of astronomers and spanned three years of intensive research. Led by Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the first team began their observations in 2008. Utilizing a 33-foot telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, they made initial observations before following up with an array of radio dishes in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.

A second team, headed by Dariusz Lis, a senior research associate in physics at Caltech and deputy director of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, confirmed the findings using the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps.

This cosmic reservoir is no small body of water; it contains the equivalent of 140 trillion times the water found in all of Earth’s oceans. Positioned more than 12 billion light-years away, the water envelops a massive, feeding black hole known as a quasar. Quasars are immense celestial objects that emit vast amounts of energy.

Bradford highlighted the uniqueness of the quasar’s environment, noting that it demonstrates how water is pervasive throughout the universe, even in its earliest epochs. Before this discovery, astronomers had never detected water vapor this far back in the early universe. While water exists in the Milky Way, most of it is frozen.

The presence of water around the quasar indicates that the quasar is “bathing” the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation, making it unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is at a frigid minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and 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.

Astronomers continue to hope that this discovery will provide further insights into the distant universe through ongoing and future research.

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