Opinion Brief

Discovered: The universe’s biggest water supply?

Astronomers' latest revelation proves that water has been around since the very earliest years of the cosmos

The image: Astronomers have found a vast reservoir of water hovering around a quasar, an extremely bright celestial object that emits tremendous amounts of radiation and is believed to be powered by a supermassive black hole. The cloud of water vapor surrounding this quasar contains 4,000 times more water than our entire Milky Way galaxy, or about 140 trillion times the amount of water found in all the oceans on Earth. (See an artist's rendering, at right and below.) The quasar is about 12 billion light years away, so the images we're seeing are from long ago, when the universe was a very young 1.6 billion years old. Finding a huge amount of water, which appears as a gray cloud in the image below, surrounding this very old quasar confirms that water has been around since the earliest days of the cosmos. 

The reaction: This is "huge," says Paul Sutherland at SkyMania. And credit technological breakthroughs for such discoveries, since we can now study "ancient galaxies caught in the act of forming stars and supermassive black holes," says astronomer Jason Glenn, as quoted by Skymania. "This huge mass of water" teaches us a lot, says Matt Bradford from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as quoted by Wired. "The environment around this quasar is unique in that it's producing this huge mass of water. It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times." See for yourself:

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