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Beyond Earthly Skies

Largest Mass of Water in the Known Universe

29 Jul 2014, 22:00 UTC
Largest Mass of Water in the Known Universe
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In July 2011, a team of astronomers reported on the discovery of the largest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe in a distant quasar identified as APM 08279+5255. A quasar is an extremely luminous object that is powered by a supermassive black hole accreting material at a stupendous rate. APM 08279+5255 sits in the core of a giant elliptical galaxy that is located at a distance of 12 billion light years, near the “edge” of the known universe. What this means is that light observed from APM 08279+5255 left it 12 billion years ago, at a time when the universe is still relatively young since the universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of a quasar, similar to APM 08279+5255. Image credit: NASA/ESA.APM 08279+5255 is incredibly luminous. Its radiant power is estimated to be roughly equivalent to a thousand trillion Suns. At its heart is a supermassive black hole whose mass is estimated to be a whopping ~20 billion times the Sun’s mass. Observations of APM 08279+5255 were performed in the millimetre waveband using the Z-Spec instrument at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) and the Combined Array for Research Millimetre-Wave Astronomy (CARMA). The observations ...

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