Key Takeaways:

  1. Astronomers discovered an immense reservoir of water surrounding a distant black hole, indicating the widespread presence of water in the early universe.
  2. The quasar studied, APM 08279+5255, hosts a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun, emitting energy equivalent to a thousand trillion suns.
  3. Water vapor detected around the black hole provides crucial insights into its nature, suggesting intense X-ray and infrared radiation activity.
  4. Observations conducted since 2008 using advanced instruments like Z-Spec and CARMA contributed to this groundbreaking discovery.
  5. Collaborative efforts involving researchers from various institutions worldwide were pivotal in funding and executing this astronomical research.

Astronomers, including a team led by Matt Bradford of JPL, found a feeding black hole soaking in water vapor.

A duo of astronomical factions has unveiled the grandest and most remote reservoir of water ever identified in the cosmos. This aqueous expanse, equivalent to 140 trillionfold the entirety of Earth’s oceanic water, envelops an immense, engorging black hole, known as a quasar, situated over 12 billion light-years distant.

“The milieu encircling this quasar exhibits remarkable singularity by engendering this colossal water mass,” articulated Matt Bradford, an academician at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It’s yet another manifestation that water permeates the cosmos, even in its embryonic epochs.” Bradford helms one of the factions that unearthed this revelation. His faction’s scholarly inquiry is partly sponsored by NASA and is documented in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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

A quasar derives its vigor from an immense black hole that steadily devours an encompassing disk of gaseous and particulate matter. As it consumes, the quasar ejects prodigious amounts of energy. Both consortiums of astronomers scrutinized a specific quasar dubbed APM 08279+5255, housing a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun and radiating energy commensurate with a myriad of trillions of suns.

Astronomers anticipated the existence of water vapor even in the primordial, distant universe, yet had not detected it at such a remove before. Water vapor exists within the Milky Way, albeit its aggregate volume is 4,000 times less than that within the quasar, predominantly because the bulk of the Milky Way’s water is ensconced in ice.

Water vapor serves as a pivotal trace constituent that unveils the quasar’s essence. Within this specific quasar, the water vapor is dispersed around the black hole within a gaseous expanse spanning hundreds of light-years in dimension (a light-year measures about six trillion miles). Its presence signifies that the quasar is immersing the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation, and that the gas deviates from the norm by being remarkably tepid and dense by astronomical standards. Though the gas maintains a frigid temperature of minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, it remains fivefold hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than the norm within galaxies like the Milky Way.

Quantifications of the water vapor and other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, imply the existence of ample gas to satiate the black hole until it expands to about sixfold its current size. Whether this scenario will transpire remains ambiguous, assert the astronomers, as some of the gas may coalesce into stellar bodies or could be expelled from the quasar.

Bradford’s consortium commenced their observations in 2008, employing an apparatus dubbed “Z-Spec” at the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory, a 33-foot (10-meter) telescope situated near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Subsequent observations were conducted utilizing the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), an array of radio antennae nestled in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.

The secondary faction, helmed by Dariusz Lis, senior researcher in physics at Caltech and deputy overseer of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, harnessed the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps to unearth water. In 2010, Lis’s faction serendipitously detected water in APM 8279+5255, discerning a lone spectral signature. Bradford’s faction managed to glean additional insights regarding the water, including its staggering mass, owing to their discernment of several spectral signatures of the water.

Additional contributors to the Bradford paper, “The water vapor spectrum of APM 08279+5255,” comprise Hien Nguyen, Jamie Bock, Jonas Zmuidzinas, and Bret Naylor of JPL; Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland, College Park; Phillip Maloney, Jason Glenn, and Julia Kamenetzky of the University of Colorado, Boulder; James Aguirre, Roxana Lupu, and Kimberly Scott of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Hideo Matsuhara of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan; and Eric Murphy of the Carnegie Institute of Science, Pasadena.

Funding for Z-Spec was facilitated by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Research Corporation, and the collaborating institutions.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments