APM 08279+5255 is a quasar in the constellation Lynx, that is notable for being a particularly good example of a gravitational lens. When originally discovered, the combination of its high redshift and brightness (particularly in the infrared) made it the most luminous object known- the light left the quasar more than 12 billion years ago (it is 12 billion light-years from Earth). High-resolution observations with the NICMOS camera on-board the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that the source was actually composed of three discrete components, with a maximum separation of 0.4 arcsec. Subsequent observations with the STIS spectrograph (also aboard HST) showed that each component has the same spectral energy distribution and therefore that each is probably an image of a single quasar. The lensing hypothesis greatly reduces the intrinsic luminosity of the lensed quasar as the observed brightness is enhanced by the magnification effect of the lens. Gravitational lens systems with odd numbers of images are extremely rare, most containing two or four.
In 2011 it was reported that vast amounts of water vapor in a cloud-like phenomenon are around this quasar, the oldest and largest mass of water in the known universe- 140 trillion times more water than that held in all of Earth's oceans combined. Its discovery shows that water has been prevalent in the known universe for nearly its entire existence- to 1.6 billion... Read More