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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Scientists estimate billions of habitable planets in the Milky Way

Using results from the High Accuracy Radical Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the European Southern Observatory, the scientists say there are likely tens of billions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone that may be able to sustain life.

They estimate that one hundred of those planets are in the sun’s immediate neighborhood — which in space-speak is 30 light years away.

**The fastest known technology allows us to travel 1 light year in ~100 years

The generally accepted (though perhaps shortsighted) definition of a planet that can sustain life is one that has a mass between one and 10 times that of Earth, as well as a rocky surface, and the ability to sustain liquid water — meaning the planet’s surface temperature is neither too hot that water would evaporate nor too cold that it would freeze.

Although there are no planets that meet those criteria in our own solar system, the report suggests that they are common around other stars.

via LA Times

Continue reading Scientists estimate billions of habitable planets in the Milky Way

Scientists watch a black hole devour a star

Back when single-celled organisms ruled Earth, a gigantic black hole lurking quietly at the center of a distant galaxy dismantled and devoured a star.

On Wednesday, astronomers reported that they watched the whole thing unfold over a period of 15 months starting in 2010, the first time such an event had been witnessed in great detail from start to finish.

“The star got so close that it was ripped apart by the gravitational force of the black hole,” said Johns Hopkins University astronomer Suvi Gezari, lead author of a paper about the observations that was published online by the journal Nature.

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Veering close to the black hole — about the same distance as Mercury lies from the sun — the gaseous star was stretched out and torn asunder by the black hole’s intense gravity.

“It turned into this really thin piece of spaghetti,” Gezari said.

About 76 days after the star was ripped apart, the black hole began devouring its remains, taking at least a year to finish off the meal.

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Astronomers call these star-obliterating events tidal disruptions. The process is similar to….keep readingGiant black hole is seen gobbling up a star