Astronomers discover black hole with 140 trillion times more water than Earth

Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s ocean, surrounds a huge, feeding black hole, called a quasar, more than 12 billion light-years away.

“The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”

A quasar is powered by an enormous black hole that steadily consumes a surrounding disk of gas and dust. As it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy. Both groups of astronomers studied a particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which harbors a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun and produces as much energy as a thousand trillion suns.

Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe, but had not detected it this far away before. There’s water vapor in the Milky Way, although the total amount is 4,000 times less than in the quasar, because most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in ice.

 

And, the instruments they used:

Bradford’s team made their observations starting in 2008, using an instrument called “Z-Spec” at the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory, 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.

The second group, led by Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at Caltech and deputy director of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, used the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps to find water.

 

Source: NASA – Astronomers Find Largest, Most Distant Reservoir of Water

 

 

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Astronomers discover a close new planet – covered in oceans of magma

In a surprise find, astronomers have discovered a planet possibly covered with oceans of magma “right around the corner.”

Thirty-three light years away, “we have a sub-Earth-sized planet that’s slightly larger than Mars and essentially right around the corner, at least on a cosmic scale,” said Kevin Stevenson, a planetary scientist now at the University of Chicago

UCF-1.01 is about 5,200 miles (8,400 kilometers) wide, making about a quarter the volume of Earth. And with a year that lasts only 1.4 Earth days, the new planet’s orbit takes UCF-1.01 searingly close to its star.

“It could be a thousand degrees Fahrenheit [540 degrees Celsius]. That may be hot enough to make an ocean of molten rock.”

Researchers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope essentially stumbled upon the new planet while studying a hot, Neptune-size planet called GJ 436b.

 

Learn more: National Geographic – New Planet Found: Molten “Mars” Is “Right Around the Corner”

 

 

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Hubble discovers another moon orbiting Pluto – that’s two in the last year

A team of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.

The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system.

“The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.

The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The favored theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.

More on thisNASA: Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto

 

 

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‘Tropical’ lakes of methane are found on Saturn’s moon of Titan

Infrared imaging by JPL’s Cassini spacecraft has shown the existence of large methane lakes near the equator of Saturn’s moon Titan. One of them is about the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake at its lowest recorded level and is at least three feet deep. The spacecraft also discovered smaller, shallower “ponds” nearby similar to marshes on Earth, with knee- to ankle-level depths.

Astronomers have previously observed large methane lakes near Titan’s poles, but the discovery of the “tropical” lakes is a surprise because it was generally assumed that this region was too warm to allow such lakes to exist for any length of time. Titan’s weather system is similar to Earth’s in one respect, but with liquid methane instead of water. The methane near the equator evaporates and is transported by winds to the poles, where it condenses back into a liquid.

…Like water vapor, which dissociates in the upper atmosphere to form ozone, methane is also dissociated by sunlight to produce reactive carbon atoms that can combine to form organic chemicals such as amino acids. Such compounds have been detected in Titan’s atmosphere and are the basis of some researchers’ speculation that Titan may harbor life forms of some sort.

Keep readingCassini spacecraft finds ‘tropical’ lakes on Saturn moon Titan

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