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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‘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.

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