There is a reserve of water the size of 140 trillion oceans lurking in a faraway supermassive black hole, the universe’s largest deposit of water and 4,000 times the amount found in the Milky Way.
This amount of water was discovered by two teams of astronomers 12 billion light-years away, where it appears as vapor dispersed across hundreds of light-years.
The reservoir was discovered in a quasar’s gaseous area, which is a brilliant compact region in the heart of a galaxy powered by a black hole. This finding demonstrates that water may be present throughout the cosmos, even at the start.
While this is not surprising to experts, water has never been discovered this far out before. The light from the quasar (specifically, the APM 08279+5255 quasar in the constellation Lynx) took 12 billion years to reach Earth, implying that this mass of water existed when the universe was just 1.6 billion years old.
One group used the Z-Spec instrument at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii, while the other used the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps.
These sensors detect millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, allowing the detection of trace gases (or vast reservoirs of water vapor) in the early cosmos.
The discovery of many spectral fingerprints of water in the quasar provided researchers with the data they needed to calculate the vast magnitude of the reservoir.