12 billion light years away sits the APM 08279+5255 quasar. Previously known as the brightest object known to man, the quasar now has a new distinction - it holds more water vapor than has ever been seen in one place before. It holds enough water to fill the Earth’s oceans 140 TRILLION times over. It is quite damp.
A quasar is essentially fueled by a supermassive black hole at its center. In the case of APM 08279+5255 (they have to give these things cooler names), the supermassive black hole is 20 billion times more massive than our sun, which means it is pretty large. The black hole eats up dust and gas and burps out A THOUSAND TRILLION suns worth of energy. The huge water vapor reservoir is spread out around the black hole for hundreds of light years, like an enormous space mist.
“The environment around this quasar is unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” says Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and a visiting associate at Caltech, where the discovery was made. “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”