Saturday, July 23, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Water is pretty essential to life, so we probably need to find some wherever we go. First the Good News:

Looking from a distance of 30 billion trillion miles away into a quasar—one of the brightest and most violent objects in the cosmos—the researchers, led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), have found a mass of water vapour that’s at least 140 trillion times that of all the water in the world’s oceans combined, and 100,000 times more massive than the sun.

Aside from the fact that it's pretty far away (and twelve billion years ago], there is another reason you shouldn't expect to find any of it in Perrier bottles soon.

...In this particular quasar, the water vapour is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years (a light-year is about six trillion miles), and its presence indicates that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is a chilly –53 degrees Celsius (–63 degrees Fahrenheit) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, it’s still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what’s typical in galaxies like the Milky Way.

The water vapour is just one of many kinds of gas that surround the quasar, and its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing the gas in both X-rays and infrared radiation. The interaction between the radiation and water vapour reveals properties of the gas and how the quasar influences it. For example, analysing the water vapour shows how the radiation heats the rest of the gas. Furthermore, measurements of the water vapour and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, suggest that there is enough gas to feed the black hole until it grows to about six times its size.

There was a lot of water, but she, that black hole, (might have) drunk it all.