In just one night of observing, scientists discovered a new record breaker – the most distant megamaser known to date.
A megamaser is a super-powerful laser of microwave light (hence maser). Megamaser comes in different flavors, but the one discovered by the scientists is the most common type, which shows the signal from hydroxyl, a molecule made up of an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom. The team argues that the newly discovered megamaser, one of the brightest beams of its kind known so far, marks one galactic collision.
“When two galaxies such as the Milky Way and Andromeda collide, rays of light shoot out from the collision and can be seen at cosmological distances,” Jeremy Darling, co-author of the new research and an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado, said in one statement published by the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, which was involved in the research. “The OH [hydroxyl] Megamasers act like bright lights saying: Here is a collision of galaxies, making new stars and feeding giant black holes.
“Megamasers arise from maximum chaos,” said Hayley Roberts, co-author of the new research and an astrophysics graduate student at Colorado University Boulder, in another statement.
Detection is courtesy of the MeerKAT array, a collection of 64 receptors spread across a piece of South Africa. The array had started a new project looking for distant hydrogen signals universetargeting what one of the researchers called a “cosmic vuvuzela,” a horn that expands enough to allow scientists to see the universe as it was when it was less than 5 billion years old.
(The project is called ‘Looking at the Distant Universe with the MeerKAT Array’ or ‘Laduma’ which means ‘it thunders’ in the Zulu language and is used by South African football fans to celebrate goals project website explained. The vuvuzela noisemaker was particularly popular at the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa.)
The Laduma project will require more than 3,000 hours of observation time – but scientists didn’t have to wait nearly that long to make discoveries.
“It is impressive that we have already found a record-breaking megamaser with just one night of observing,” said Marcin Glowacki, lead author of the new research and an astronomer at Curtin University in Australia, in a University statement. “That shows how good the telescope is.”
At the suggestion of a student, the scientists have dubbed the Megamaser Nkalakatha, which means “big boss” in isiZulu, one of South Africa’s official languages.
Nkalakatha is said to emanate from a galaxy with a long, bright tail down one side, and its light is about 5 billion years old.
And Nkalakatha won’t be the only megamaser the research project can add to the cosmic map. “MeerKAT is likely to double the known number of these rare phenomena,” Darling said. “In the past it was thought that galaxies merge more frequently, and the newly discovered OH megamasers will allow us to test this hypothesis.”
The results are described in a paper Published on Wednesday (April 6) at the preprint site arXiv.org and accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
publisher’s Note: This article has been updated to correct author identifications. Email Meghan Bartels at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @meghan bartels. follow us on twitter @spacedotcom and further Facebook.