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Yes, massive water ‘cloud’ in space holds 140 trillion times all the water in Earth’s oceans

A graphic shared on Facebook in South Africa says “there is a water Reservoir floating in space which is equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s oceans”.

The graphic was shared 39,000 times in just 24 hours, but flagged as possibly false by Meta’s fact-checking system. Is this mind-bending number accurate?

SpaceWater_Correct

Our ‘blue planet’ is 71% covered in water

Earth is sometimes known as the “blue planet” and according to the US-based National Ground Water Association this is because 71% of the planet’s surface is covered by water. 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates our planet holds about 1,460,000,000 cubic kilometres of water.

This is made up of the water in the oceans, icecaps and glaciers, groundwater, streams and lakes, and in the soil, atmosphere and biosphere.

Largest water reservoir ‘ever detected in the universe’

In 2011, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or Nasa, reported two teams of astronomers had discovered the largest and most distant water reservoir “ever detected in the universe”.

The claim in the graphic may have come directly from this article, which said: “The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world's ocean, surrounds a huge, feeding black hole, called a quasar, more than 12 billion light-years away.”

The light year is a unit for measuring astronomic distances. One light year equals 9,500,000,000,000 kilometres – 9 trillion 500 billion kilometres, if all those zeros make your head spin. 

National Geographic, the Smithsonian and Wired magazine also reported on this discovery. National Geographic said the “universe's most massive water cloud” of water weighed around 40 billion times the mass of Earth. 

The hard-to-imagine claim in this graphic on Facebook is correct.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Further Reading

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