Water vapor cloud at edge of universe

The Hubble Deep Field, product of Creation Day 4.
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Astronomers have found a large water vapor cloud at the edge of the universe—exactly where the remnants of creation would lie.

Where is this water vapor?

The water vapor cloud orbits a quasar 12 billion light years away from earth. That’s 1.7 billion light-years less than the radius of all the known matter in the universe. So this cloud is very close to the edge. As such it is a leftover from the day the universe began.

A team of astronomers at Caltech and the University of Maryland found this water vapor near Quasar APM 08279+5255. They used two telescopes, presumably the Keck telescope on Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii, and the Hale telescope on Mount Palomar in California. (Caltech, home of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, operates both.)

The cloud holds a lot of water vapor—4,000 times as much as our own galaxy holds. (That doesn’t count the water ice in our galaxy.)

What exactly is a quasar?

Hubble Space Telescope photograph of a quasar. At least one quasar has a lot of water vapor associated with it.

A nearby quasar. Photo: NASA/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute

A quasar (quasi-stellar radio) is a very bright object, usually (but not always) at the edge of the universe. As such, a quasar is a new galaxy, one we see as it forms. This is especially true of a quasar at or near the edge of the universe. Almost by definition, the farthest objects are the oldest. Anything happening in or near them goes back to the beginning of the universe.

How significant is this water vapor?

It confirms one thing that almost all astronomers, regardless of their viewpoint on origins, agree on. Namely that water is the most common substance in all the universe. It also shows that water (not free hydrogen) prevailed throughout the universe even in its earliest times.

All this lends more support to the Bible, and especially the Genesis narrative, as an accurate report of how the universe began. The Bible describes the sky as a thin sheet separating waters above it from waters below it. (The Hebrew word is raquiah, often appearing as “firmament” in English.) Peter of Galilee (II Peter 3:5) wrote that God caused the skies and the earth to “stand together out of water.” (The Greek word synistemi can mean I cause to stand together or I form.) All these verses say that water was the most abundant substance at the beginning. Seeing a quasar full of water vapor confirms that saying.

Featured image: the Hubble Deep Field. Photo: NASA.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

7 Responses to Water vapor cloud at edge of universe

  1. Charles Wheat says:

    Umm…. yeah, so the most common ELEMENT (by mass) in the universe according to http://www.webelements.com/periodicity/abundance_universe/ and http://web.archive.org/web/20060901133923/http://www.astro.wesleyan.edu/~bill/courses/astr231/wes_only/element_abundances.pdf and pretty much the proper understanding of chemistry and astrophysics is hydrogen. I’m not quite sure what you mean by substance in this case, and by most common, and frankly, where you are getting your information on this point (an embedded hyperlink is always appreciated). If by substance you mean compound, then you are technically correct. Free Hydrogen (H_2), which is diatomic, is not considered a compound as a compound, by definition, must contain two or more elements. If, on the other hand, by substance you include both compounds and diatomic elements as well as singular elements, then free hydrogen is the most common substance. Precision and concision are a writer’s and debater’s best friend.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      When I said that water was the most common substance, I was distinguishing it from H2. Maybe hydrogen is still the most abundant element, but we’re talking about molecules, not the elements that they’re made out of. Now tell me whether you’re sure that diatomic free hydrogen is more abundant than water at the edge of the universe.

      • Charles Wheat says:

        At the edge of the universe? The universe is a massive massive massive place, and this one water vapor cloud in one comparatively almost infinitesimal part of space doesn’t really change what I’ve heard time after time. Considering that the majority composition of stars is hydrogen, I’d still say that diatomic hydrogen is still more abundant. Of course, unless you mean just huge clouds of H_2 flying around. In that case, I’d say that you’re probably moving the goal posts to make your somewhat unclear and ambiguous phrasing into something that becomes almost tautologically true.

        Also, both free hydrogen and free oxygen (H_2 and O_2, respectively) are considered to be molecules. It’s annoying when words with a specific scientific meaning also are used in more common ways and thus lose their precision.

  2. DinsdaleP says:

    I wasn’t aware that elements are not substances, Terry. If they are, I’d appreciate a reference to a source that backs up your statement that “almost all astronomers , regardless of their viewpoint, agree on” water being the most common substance in the universe. Hydrogen?Certainly. Water? I’ve never seen that statement until now, but I’m open to being corrected.

    Also, the scale of the universe is truly mind-boggling, but the finding of such a massive amount of water near one quasar does not imply a similar amount by other quasars, or anywhere else in the observed universe for that matter. You’re taking a single, albeit remarkable, observation and declaring without proof that it applies on a scale not observed, as if it was established fact.

    A reader complained on one of your other essays that there appears to be a coordinated “piling on” of criticism when you write about topics like this. There’s nothing coordinated about this push back, other than that many intelligent, ethical people have a problem with non-evidence being portrayed as evidence, an speculation being presented as truth. We can all be silenced in a minute if unrefutable evidence and logic was presented, but essays like this will continue to draw fair criticism. Thanks for at least providing an uncensored forum for rebuttal, though.

  3. John says:

    Finding a cloud of water around one quasar isn’t proof of the factual accuracy of Genesis, and this interpretation of this water as some remnant left aside from the creation is problematic for a few reasons:

    1. Your reasoning is cosmologically flawed due to numerous erroneous assumptions and statements.
    You write: “The water vapor cloud orbits a quasar 12 billion light years away from earth. That’s 1.7 billion light-years less than the radius of all the known matter in the universe. So this cloud is very close to the edge. As such it is a leftover from the day the universe began.”
    The second sentence is almost accurate, but it should read: “That’s 1.7 billion light-years less than the radius of the presently observable universe.” The next sentence is completely erroneous, as a distance between two objects of 1.7 billion light years isn’t “very close”. A single light year is six trillion miles. You do the math.

    You write: “The cloud holds a lot of water vapor—4,000 times as much as our own galaxy holds. (That doesn’t count the water ice in our galaxy.)”
    We don’t know exactly how much water is in our own solar system, much less our galaxy, and a significant portion of what we do know about is ice. I don’t know where you got this figure, but it is beyond worthless.

    You write: “As such, a quasar is a new galaxy, one we see as it forms. This is especially true of a quasar at or near the edge of the universe. Almost by definition, the farthest objects are the oldest. Anything happening in or near them goes back to the beginning of the universe.”
    This is factually correct, but I’d like to point out that this observation assumes a constant speed of light (which it should) and thus proves that the universe is very old, something that flies in the face of a literal interpretation of Genesis. Also, this supports the idea of an expanding universe, meaning that creation didn’t happen in seven days, it’s still happening today.

    You write: “It confirms one thing that almost all astronomers, regardless of their viewpoint on origins, agree on. Namely that water is the most common substance in all the universe. It also shows that water (not free hydrogen) prevailed throughout the universe even in its earliest times.” The most common “substance” is hydrogen, even in our own solar system. Our sun is largely hydrogen, as are the two biggest planets. Water is not more abundant than hydrogen. Even in the early stages of the universe, water was not more abundant than hydrogen, as there simply isn’t enough oxygen in the universe for this to be the case.

    2. Your conclusions involve stretching Biblical verses well beyond their obvious intended meaning.
    You write: “The Bible describes the sky as a thin sheet separating waters above it from waters below it. (The Hebrew word is raquiah, often appearing as “firmament” in English.) Peter of Galilee (II Peter 3:5) wrote that God caused the skies and the earth to “stand together out of water.” (The Greek word synistemi can mean I cause to stand together or I form.) All these verses say that water was the most abundant substance at the beginning.”
    None of these have anything to do with the observation of deep space phenomenon. The most easily visible quasar is 3C 273 with an apparent magnitude of 12.91, which is still not visible to the naked eye even under the most perfect conditions, so they certainly weren’t talking about quasars because they didn’t know they existed yet. Thus “sky” is not to be interpreted as “space” and indeed those words mean different things. You’re taking things said by primitive people out of context and stretching it so that they appear to have some impossible foreknowledge of the universe. This is folly. They’re only writing about the creation of Earth, and they’re doing this because they didn’t know anything about our place in the Universe. This follows the same logic as, and indeed requires, geocentrism, something we know to be completely false. You’re rejecting the idea that somehow despite our technologies far beyond anything the writers of the Bible could ever have conceived of, that these bronze age people somehow knew more about the universe than we do. I shouldn’t have to provide evidence to prove how wrong that is, since we’re having this discussion on a medium that proves how wrong that is.

    3. This explanation for these events as evidence of creation is less satisfying than one rooted in methodological naturalism. By bringing God into the equation, you turn this phenomenon into a consciously directed process, as opposed to one that simply follows the natural laws of the Universe. By bringing this volition into the equation, it becomes necessary to explain why God is doing these things. If it is indeed “a remnant” of creation, then you’re implying that God didn’t know what to do with all this water, and just sort of draped it about a quasar. This is flawed logic to begin with, since we’re observing how this appeared at the beginning of the Universe, not the present day, and so this cloud likely does not even exist in the same state today, meaning this isn’t a “remnant” at all, but just a snapshot in a long ongoing process (a far cry from all of the Universe being created in a week). Not only is almost all of your evidence flawed, but the conclusion you’re attempting to draw out of this is a self-contradictory non sequitur.

    In short, this essay is inconsistent, illogical, erroneous and absurd.

  4. aveskde says:

    >>All these verses say that water was the most abundant substance at the beginning. Seeing a quasar full of water vapor confirms that saying.

    Wow that’s selective. If you read the entire Biblical narrative (including the non-canon books which some churches decided to leave out), it’s clear that the firmament was a material which made a dome over the earth. If memory serves, when the Bible speaks of the waters, it was speaking of dividing the lands from them. Biblical cosmology had a circular Earth, covered by a dome of firmament, with god’s throne and heaven at the apex of that dome. The weather came in from gates at the four corners of Earth. This is also why the Bible mentions having windows in the heavens which let the rain fall to Earth. The rain came from windows in the firmament.

    If you’re going to cite Biblical cosmology, please be honest and include all of it.

  5. Astrophysicist Ph.D. says:

    Mr. Wheat, “Umm…. yeah” your snide remarks lend useless in any real observations that might be considered truly scientific.

    Science by the very nature and definition of the word, means observation first. Since most science fails to observe anything substantial, it flies in the face of any real study of what can be observed, as what you tend to be indicating seems largely based on imaginary things. Many “scientists” are sold-out to the fanciful illusions that are now popularized and unfortunately publicized as being “breakthroughs” when in all true science, they are merely distorted ideas and at best, delusions of what astronomers want to believe.

    So, you’ve made a few points that lend useless as far as I can see. It’s annoying when pseudo-scientists feel obligated to speak in forums where their opinions are not wanted, invited, or instrumental for any progress. Sorry, but I’m only stating what I observe here and cannot refrain from speaking up. Sure, “H20” at the “edge of the universe” does sound as fanciful as saying the universe is expanding and collapsing, “inhaling and exhaling” or contrarily as Fred Hoyle theorized, just standing steady, and his controversial stance remaining as it were, more steady than his universe or his theory thereof–but I digress…

    Such nonsense is easily dismissed by the genius of true study and the application of real research. Imagination is useful to establish meaningful theories, but without real proof, it remains as steady as the above stated professor of lies becomes. No wonder he died after a series of strokes; in his mind, such an infinite view of a truly finite universe, would cause anyone’s brain to essentially meltdown. No use for a mind that produces such “dazzling” and useless “science” in a world that craves less of the truth about nature, and more of the delusions about what “might be”, savvy?

    Science today, is flawed in fundamental research, due to a general lack of moral and ethical integrity, relying heavily upon the false suppositions of “what might be” rather than what actually is. The truth about the universe is largely unknown, and I say this with confidence, that theories suggesting an infinite and ever-expanding universe, deny the real value of life on earth. How? By standing face-to-face with the idea of an intelligent design, or a creation, and lying about the facts simply because many “true scientists” are either unwilling or unable to publicly speak about such difficult or controversial topics. The burden of proof is still expected. For instance, I believe with utter certainty that the Universe is finite. I also have evidence to back this up. However, it is only a single “school of though” where the opponent is adversely inclined toward an infinite universe (or something similar in other terms).

    In other words, scientists in our post-modern world, are less “scientific” and more imaginative. I admit, I’m growing weary of the study and the desire to even talk about the subject anymore, leaning more towards the arts, writing compositions, or tuning into the more meaningful and valuable things in life–things that produce more freedom for the mind to be at ease, or to lessen the burden of such weighty topics that lead to confusion more than not, and even lead to insanity. I do respect Dr. Hawking’s views on a creator more than I would, say, those held by someone less renowned and more annoying, like the notorious and pathetic, late Richard Dawkins. Truly, a pathetic man of no meaningful science whatsoever, to no avail in proving anything that is of any substantial burden for any noble mind to uphold. Yet both of these men have one thing in common (not science), rather surprisingly, an imagination. In fact, Einstein had an imagination which I believe also far-reaching in nature, was more impacting in history and more beautiful and appreciated than either of these men’s views on the universe or life sustained therein.

    True, imagination needs to be applied to all scientific pursuits, but the sadness and grief of the loss of true science and true reliable research, is largely influenced by the imaginations which are then taught as “scientific facts” — for instance, “Dark Matter” is an example of a lie being taught as truth, and “science” being applied mathematically, only because “dark matter” is mathematically necessary to reconcile the variables observed. However, what is actually observed isn’t the supposed “dark matter” rather, the effects of a mathematical conundrum, in need of serious absolution.

    The indications I am talking about, have little or nothing to do with the theory of a finite universe, or even pertaining to a finite universe where the “outer” parts are comprised primarily of H20. Who could actually prove such a thing? But a leap of the imagination gladly looks at something like, “The universe is finite” and tries to gather any substantial observations that might lend useful in proving this. Yet if it were proven that the Universe was finite, and that the “outer” parts were H20, wouldn’t this be more useful for creationists who highly regard Biblical theology? It certainly would. So, at all costs, wouldn’t scientists rather lend their minds to believing the Universe is comprised mostly of this fanciful delusion? That is to say, wouldn’t the “scientist” rather believe in dark matter, than to lend an ear to a theory that dissolves this poorly contrived theory, where General Relativity no longer has the gravity it once held (no pun intended)? Einstein’s greatest career blunder, admittedly, flies in the face of the substantial proof that could aid in the true establishment of a unifying theory.

    I conclude my remarks by simply saying, you sir, sounded arrogant in your words, and less interested in applying true science, and more apt to say aimlessly that you disagree? I’m not sure if that is a genuine observation. I just wanted to come here to talk a bit about the great idea that there might be something we’ve overlooked or haven’t discovered yet, which might in the end, be very useful in advancing the sciences, which I readily say are quickly losing validity and integrity as we progress toward a universal “theory of everything”.

    I’m not inclined to understand how your remarks were useful in this forum. A truly proper understanding might be an absolutely flawed understanding, depending on the context in which it is actually applicable. Your view might be completely correct, but I beg to say, to what effect are you leaning toward here? That the Universe is finite or infinite? That the Universe is comprised of mostly hydrogen, as observable, or that imagining a universe comprised mostly of H20, simply isn’t useful?

    Just wondering what your motive or objective really is? I would say that the Universe, our Universe (not the one imagined) is indeed, comprised of H20, and that we may not have observed this as being instrumental or even worse, substantial at all. Anyway, the idea that water is at the “edge of the universe” is rather interesting to anyone who enjoys knowing what’s really “out there”. I’m now of the belief, at this stage of my life, that there is something beyond discovering out there, and that above and beyond this “water vapor” is a world so diminished by our intellect, and so frowned upon without observation — but so much to be desired, to be dreamed of, to be hoped for.

    Retiring from my once arrogant belief that we evolved by chance, with all elements just being in place, leading to living organisms and eventually, thinking, rational, highly observant beings… I no longer sell myself to the scientific world that arrived in this part of the Universe truly by a random, quantum fluctuation, in some “spaceless/timeless” void, only to one “day” construct a perfectly aligned, life-sustaining world, where all things so finely tuned for sentient, conscious, intelligent beings, could look up and ask, “Where did we come from?” or “How did we get here?” or “How did it all begin? Where are we going? How is it going to end?”

    I’m beginning to believe there is something beyond proving, but that deep within the heart of mankind, the questions that we ask will one day provide insightful to the answers. Science never really satisfies the craving, but only intensifies the longing to know “why and how”? I can’t really say I know for certain what is “at the edge” of the known and observable Universe, but I’m willing to take a leap in the imagination and say, “It’s water.” Just a wild idea to contemplate. If it were true, then we’d have to sit down with many who believe an intelligent designer sits above the “cloud”.

    Anyway, this was an interesting post. I’m glad it stimulates the mind to ask questions, and to look deeper into the Universe. Sadly, I do feel regretful in how I once approached such topics so arrogantly, as though I really knew anything at all about the true nature of the Universe, from a scientific standpoint. I know now, to humbly stand in awe of it all, because the answers being provided leave us more confused and hungry than ever before! Alas, if only I was born in the time when everyone thought the world was flat, and had no real means of observing the truth about it all! If only then I was born, so I wouldn’t have to sift through all the pseudo-scientific garbage that has the minds of the youth today disinterested in truly engaging in discovering more, and applying that knowledge in a meaningful way.

    Well, hope this didn’t bore anyone to death! It’s a pleasure to speculate, but even more a pleasure to take what is learned in science and apply it in a constructive way to daily living. Anything else, is fanciful and lacks true meaning. I’m truly humbled after years of striving, years of wondering, years of research. I have simply let go of the ego which was driving me to have evidence, and have learned to ask the right questions. How rewarding it is, to have the answers to the questions that drive us! Thank you for posting this article. It was nice to read something different.

    Shalom and Peace,

    Humbled Professor of Astrophysics

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