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    APM 08279+5255 - The Largest Water Mass In The Universe (So Far)
    By News Staff | July 22nd 2011 02:06 PM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe in a quasar called APM 08279+5255 - enough water to fill Earth's oceans more than 100 trillion times.

    The distant quasar is one of the most powerful known objects in the universe and has an energy output of 1,000 trillion suns, about 65,000 times that of our Milky Way galaxy. The power of APM 08279+5255 comes from matter spiraling into the quasar's central supermassive black hole, estimated at some 20 billion times the mass of our sun. 

     The discovery was made with a spectrograph called Z-Spec operating in the millimeter wavelengths, found between the infrared and microwave wavelengths, at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, a 10-meter telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, on the big island of Hawaii. Z-Spec's detectors are cooled to within 0.06 degrees Celsius of absolute zero in order to obtain the sensitivity required for these measurements.  

    Because   APM 08279+5255, essentially a voraciously feeding black hole, is so far away, its light has taken 12 billion light years to arrive at Earth. One light year equals about 6 trillion miles so the observations reveal a time when the universe was very young, perhaps only 1.6 billion years old. Astronomers believe the universe was formed by the Big Bang roughly 13.6 billion years ago. 


    Artist's conception of a quasar similar to APM 08279+5255.  Credit: NASA/ESA

    The water measured in the quasar is in the form of vapor and is the largest mass of water ever found, according to the researchers. The amount of water estimated to be in the quasar is at least 100,000 times the mass of the sun, equivalent to 34 billion times the mass of the Earth.

    In an astronomical context, water is a trace gas, but it indicates gas that is unusually warm and dense, said study leader Matt Bradford of Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "In this case, the water measurement shows that the gas is under the influence of the growing black hole, bathed in both infrared and X-ray radiation." 

    The water measurement, together with measurements of other molecules in the vapor source, suggests there is enough gas present for the black hole to grow to about six times its already massive size, said Bradford. Whether it will grow to this size is not clear, however, as some of the gas may end up forming stars instead, or be ejected from the quasar host galaxy in an outflow. 

    In the Milky Way, the mass of gaseous water is at least 4,000 times smaller than that in the quasar, in part because most of the water in our own galaxy is frozen into ice. While the water vapor in the Milky Way is found only in a limited number of regions, a few light years in size or smaller, the water in the distant quasar appears to be distributed over hundreds of light years, said the researchers.


    "Breakthroughs are coming fast in millimeter and submillimeter technology, enabling us to study ancient galaxies caught in the act of forming stars and supermassive black holes," said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn, a study co-author and co-principal investigator on the Z-Spec instrument development. "The excellent sensitivity of Z-Spec and similar technology will allow astronomers to continue to make important and surprising findings related to distant celestial objects in the early universe, with implications for how our own Milky Way galaxy formed."

    The discovery highlights the utility of the millimeter and submillimeter band for astronomy, which has developed rapidly in the last two to three decades. To achieve the potential of this relatively new spectral range, astronomers, including the study authors, are now designing CCAT, a 25-meter telescope for the high Chilean Atacama desert. With CCAT astronomers will discover some of the earliest galaxies in the universe, and will be able to study their gas content via measurements of water as well as other important gas species, Glenn said.

    Comments

    Besides the necessity for Americans to go metric, they should also convert to centigrades, to avoid confusing expressions like "detectors are cooled to within 0.06 degrees Celsius of absolute zero". We would call that "Kelvin", wouldn't we? Or is the author afraid that american readers might think it was 0.06 degrees of Fahrenheit above absolute zero?
    The next paragraph is even more confusing:
    "its light has taken 12 billion light years to arrive at Earth. One light year equals about 6 trillion miles so the observations reveal a time when the universe was very young, perhaps only 1.6 billion years old. Astronomers believe the universe was formed by the Big Bang roughly 13.6 billion years ago. "
    I don't care or have to know how many miles or inches go into a lightyear. It's obvious anyway that 12 Gly plus 1.6 Gly = 13.6 Gly.

    Hank
    Besides the necessity for Americans to go metric
    I don't see why a system invented during the French Revolution because they resented Anglo-Saxon dominance and that was based on a measurement they got wrong should somehow become the world standard because you happen to like it.      I think we generally use both systems interchangeably here because it is easy.  
    The next paragraph is even more confusing:
    Americans have no problem understanding both systems so why Europeans have so much trouble with simple math is unclear.   I also have both metric and standard tools in my garage and it bothers me not in the least.

    We also did not choose to adopt their 10-day week or the French calendar or beheading people but you are welcome to advocate those also.  :)

    Hi Hank,
    "Americans have no problem understanding both systems"
    Well, when they wanted to land a device on mars, there was a confusion between feet and meters, and it crashed. No problem, no?

    Hank
    So you would accept switching to standard because Americans use it?   Why not do the same for all language?   Your writing is excellent, which is good, since every country would have to communicate in English by your reasoning.

    Rather than eliminate Standard measurements, another person with an agenda could use your example to eliminate JPL, or all of NASA, since JPL was the flaw, not the measurement system.  Basically, flawed examples that can be interpreted lots of ways don't help much.
    Hank,
    You're a fast communicator. I agree, the best way to communicate (on the internet) is in english, even if you're Cantonese. Still, my favorite words come from Leo Vroman in Fort Worth:
    "Als ik iets zwaars niet meer mag
    is dat lekker, en bovendien:
    de verleden tijd van ontzien
    blijft ontzag."
    If you can't read it, try to sing it.

    Anyway, comparing languages isn't much use, as any mother or lover in any language is able to hear the needs of her baby. Even computers are able to understand all ascii proper coded languages, although I regret the current use of zero as offset for arrays, which might be more natural for machines, but not traditional in mathematics. Maybe we should return to latin and proper algebra.

    "...the mass of gaseous water is at least 4,000 times smaller than..."?? 4000 times smaller? Who taught you math? _One_ _single_ _time_ smaller than anything is /ZERO/! Smaller is arrived at by division, not multiplication.
    "Two time smaller," or even, ".000000000001 times smaller," enters into negative numbers.
    Errors of this type do a disservice to your readers and make you look .. uneducated.

    Hank
    Who taught you math? _One_ _single_ _time_ smaller than anything is /ZERO/! Smaller is arrived at by division, not multiplication.
    You confused maths and arithmetic, for one thing - I did a quick Google search and I can find 'X times smaller' going back at least 35 years by every scientist in physics and plenty of mathematicians.   You can also and it may go back centuries and just be those are not on the Internet.   So if they are all uneducated and you are right, okay.

    I don't see an understanding issue, it seems like you are interested more in semantics than increasing any knowledge, but it certainly makes me crazy when journalists use 'begging the question' as to mean ' demanding that the question be asked' so I can appreciate this might bother you.   But it means you are spending all of your days correcting scientists and mathematicians and engineers because this syntax is quite literally everywhere.
    I'm pretty sure I'm not confusing anything. Check it yourself:
    (Emphasis mine)
    "From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

    Mathematics \Math`e*mat"ics\, n. [F. math['e]matiques, pl., L.
    mathematica, sing., Gr. ? (sc. ?) science. See {Mathematic},
    and {-ics}.]
    That science, or class of sciences, which treats of the _/exact
    relations/_ existing between quantities or magnitudes, and of
    the methods by which, in accordance with these relations,
    quantities sought are deducible from other quantities known
    or supposed; the science of spatial and quantitative
    relations."

    You see, no matter how one may claim to 'understand' it, it simply is not correct. Ask any mathematics (not 'maths' which may include any nonsensical grouping of numbers, real, imaginary or fantastical) teacher worth his/her degree.
    Try this:
    If you only have ten dollars and I take from you 3 times ten dollars, your wallet will be three times smaller than before. How is that possible? You can't give me 30 dollars; you only have ten. Simple. So simple even a child can understand it. I can only take what you actually have.
    Similarly, if the Milky Way has just /one time/ less water than APM 08279+5255 - then the Milky Way has ZERO water.
    Surely that is not what you mean to imply. I have a glass of it right here.

    So as to not /only/ complain, here is a (more) correct rendition of the incorrect sentence above about which I did complain:
    "In the Milky Way, the mass of gaseous water is at most 1/4000th of the amount that is in the quasar..."

    See? Easy and much more nearly correct.