February 28, 2024

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Discovery of a 12-billion-year-old body of water floating in space

Scientists have confirmed that the age of the largest body of water in the known universe is 12 billion years.

Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and most distant reservoir of water ever discovered in the universe.

Bodies of water are significantly larger than all the water on planet Earth. According to scientists, it is equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s oceans.

However, there is a small chance that you will spot it through your microscope, as the body of water surrounds a massive black hole feeding it called a quasar, which lies more than 12 billion years away.

Pretty mind-bending, isn’t it?

Observations made by scientists revealed a time when the universe was only 1.6 billion years old.

Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, spoke about the discovery and said it shows that water can be found throughout the universe.

This artist's concept shows a quasar, or feeding black hole, similar to APM 08279+5255Credit: NASA/ESA
This artist’s concept shows a quasar, or feeding black hole, similar to APM 08279+5255Credit: NASA/ESA

“The environment surrounding this quasar is unique in that it produces this huge mass of water,” he said. “It is further evidence that water is widespread throughout the universe, even in the most ancient times.”

Quasars are massive celestial objects and emit large amounts of energy. Gas and dust fall into a supermassive black hole, located at the center, and emit electromagnetic radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

The Bradford team was able to obtain more information about water, most notably its amazing mass, as they discovered many of the water’s spectral signatures.

Observations made by scientists revealed a time when the universe was only 1.6 billion years old.  Credit: Getty Stock Image
Observations made by scientists revealed a time when the universe was only 1.6 billion years old. Credit: Getty Stock Image

Before this discovery, astronomers had not been able to find water vapor present to this extent in the early universe. There is water elsewhere in the Milky Way, but most of it is frozen in ice.

Astronomers hope to learn more about the distant universe, and study participants proposed building a 25-meter telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

In 2020, the telescope was renamed from the Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope (CCAT) to the Fred Young Submillimeter Telescope (FYST) after Cornell graduate Fred Young supported the telescope for nearly two decades with $16 million.

But due to lack of funding, the telescope plan was unfortunately postponed.