Scientists discover water in a distant galaxy pair

Water has been detected in the most massive galaxy pair in the early Universe, according to new observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Scientists detected water and carbon monoxide in SPT0311-58 — made up of two galaxies — located nearly 12.88 billion light-years from Earth.

Water, in particular, is the third most abundant molecule in the universe after molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

PT0311-58 was first seen by ALMA scientists in 2017 at its location, or at a time when the universe was just 780 million years old — roughly 5% of its current age — and the first stars and galaxies were being born.

Scientists believe that the two galaxies may be merging, and that their rapid star formation is not only using up their gas or star-forming fuel but that it may eventually evolve the pair into massive elliptical galaxies like those seen in the Local Universe.

Detection of these two molecules in abundance suggests that the molecular universe was going strong shortly after the elements were forged in early stars. The new research comprises the most detailed study of the molecular gas content of a galaxy in the early universe to date and the most distant detection of water in a regular star-forming galaxy.

The research is published in The Astrophysical Journal      - IANS

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