"It is interesting that we found water in the first gravitationally-magnified object we observed from the distant Universe", says co-author John McKean. "This suggests that the water molecule may have been much more abundant in the early Universe than first thought, and can be used for further research into supermassive black holes and galaxy evolution at high redshift."
The water emission was seen in the form of a maser, that is, beamed radiation similar to a laser, but at microwaves wavelengths. The signal corresponds to a luminosity of 10,000 times the luminosity of the Sun. Such astrophysical masers are known to originate in regions of hot and dense dust and gas. With the detection of water from MG J0414+0534 it is the first time such a dense gas component has been observed in the early Universe and shows that the conditions for the water molecule to form and survive already existed only 2.5 billion years after the Big Bang.
Water masers have been found in a number of galaxies at closer distances. Typically, they are thought to arise in the hot gas and dust closely orbiting a supermassive black hole at the galaxy's core. This amplified radio emission is more often observed when the orbiting disk is seen nearly edge-on. However, the astronomers say MG J0414+0534 is oriented with the disk almost face-on as seen from Earth. "This may mean that the water molecules in the masers we're seeing are not in the disk, but in the superfast jets of material being ejected by the gravitational power of the black hole," explains John McKean.
For the future, the detection of water in distant galaxies may still be challenging due to the sensitivity limitations of current day telescopes. Of the nearby galaxies within half a billion light years from Earth only about one hundred galaxies show detectable water vapour emission, and almost
|Contact: Dr. Violette Impellizzeri|