Scientists have found a vast reservoir of water, equal to 140 trillion times all the water on Earth. Unfortunately, it’s 12 billion light years away, and surrounds an enormous black hole. The water is not exactly accessible: it is in the form of vapor, 300 trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, spread across hundreds of light years. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Matt Bradford observed, “The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water. It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”
The discovery of so much water, so far away, is tantalizing. Water scarcity affects livelihoods and lives around the world; 1.2 billion people live in areas of water scarcity, and over a billion more lack access to clean water. Scarcity is also affected by energy generation: power plants account for 40% of fresh water withdrawals in the U.S.
Water scarcity and its importance are reflected in the investment sector as well. This month NASDAQ launched four indexes to track companies involved in conserving and purifying water, signaling that global investors are realizing the opportunities and risks associated with water limits. While investment is necessary to help companies scale to greater effectiveness, one can’t help being concerned that where there is money to be made, there will be vultures out to make a buck on the back of a life-giving natural resource.
According to the UN, there is enough freshwater on the planet to support six billion people, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. Water scarcity affects one-third of the human population. In any day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is spent collecting and transporting water for domestic use. The wondrous discovery of massive oceans of water several galaxies away does not lessen appreciation for the finite water resources we have here on earth.
Image: Artist rendering of quasar where water reservoir was discovered. Courtesy: NASA/ESA