Examination of new data from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope has revealed signs of water in a distant galaxy - located over 12 billion light years away from Earth. This is currently the most distant detection of water and its discovery is ground-breaking.
Over 12.88 billion light years from Earth, in the biggest galaxy in the early Universe, carbon monoxide was also discovered alongside the water. Experts have said that the discovery of these two molecules in abundance suggest the Universe was going strong – just after the elements were forged in the early stars. According to Sreevani Jarugula, an astronomer at the University of Illinois and the principal investigator, “the molecular forms of carbon monoxide and water […] are critical to life as we know it.”
Jarugula went onto add: “This study not only provides answers about where, and how far away, water can exist in the Universe, but also has given rise to a big question: How has so much gas and dust assembled to form stars and galaxies so early in the Universe? The answer requires further study of these and similar star-forming galaxies to get a better understanding of the structural formation and evolution of the early Universe.”
Although travel to the water-dwelling Early universe planet is not imminent, the discovery is important as it helps add new information and context to other findings. Discovery of water in a galaxy over 12 billion light-years from Earth will help scientists learn more about the birth of the universe, the Milky Way and Earth.
Joe Pesce, an astrophysicist and ALMA Program Director at the National Science Foundation said: “This exciting result, which shows the power of ALMA, adds to a growing collection of observations of the early Universe.”
“These molecules, important to life on Earth, are forming as soon as they can, and their observation is giving us insight into the fundamental processes of a Universe very much different from today’s.”