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Surprising Science

The Largest Ocean in the Universe

Astronomers have discovered a huge mass of water -- some 140 trillion times the amount of water in all the Earth’s oceans combined. This water is 12 billion light years from Earth, evidence that water existed in abundance when the universe was young.

What’s the Big Idea?


The word “ocean” doesn’t quite do it justice. Two teams of astronomers have discovered an enormous reservoir of water in space that contains 140 trillion times the amount of water in all the Earth’s oceans combined. This reservoir is inside a quasar over 12 billion light years away.

As the light from this watery quasar took 12 billion years to reach Earth, the observations come from a time when the universe was very young–only 1.6 billion years old.

The discovery was made by scientists at the California Institute of Technology who used the Z-Spec instrument at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii and the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy in Southern California. The study was accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

What’s the Significance?

The discovery shows that water has been prevalent in the universe for nearly its entire existence. This not only tells us about the history of the universe, but also sheds light on the presence of one of space’s most valuable natural resources. Water is not only a key ingredient for life. This resource could be used to enable further space exploration. For instance, it could propel a hydro rocket for a return trip back to Earth.


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