Astronomers have discovered a powerful space laser emitted from a distant galaxy.
The beam of radio waves is what scientists call a “megamaser” and this is the farthest to date, appearing 5 billion light-years away from Earth.
It was discovered by an international team of scientists using the “MeerKAT” telescope in South Africa, a radio telescope consisting of 64 antennas.
Megamasts are naturally occurring radio-wavelength lasers that can help shine light on collisions of galaxies.
“Megazers act like flashing lights that say ‘Here galaxies collide that make new stars and feed supermassive black holes,'” said study co-author Jeremy Darling, of the University of Colorado.
When galaxies merge, the gas they contain becomes extremely dense, producing a specific radio signal known as a maser.
Megamasers are powerful nursing devices produced in collisions of massive galaxies, like beams from cosmic lighthouses.
In a paper published last week, Darling and his colleagues reveal the discovery of the most distant giant maser to date.
To reflect its record-breaking status, the team named the space laser Nkalakatha – a word from isiZulu meaning “big leader”.
“The Nkalakatha is one of the most powerful ultrasound locators known in OH, and it’s the largest massive maser of its kind ever discovered, so it really is a ‘big boss’,” said study co-author and Rutgers University astronomer Andrew Baker.
“We expect it’s only the first of many OH [hydroxyl] megamasers that will be discovered as the project continues.”
Instead of emitting visible light, the maser emits radio wavelengths and microwaves that are amplified by cosmic forces.
Once the team proved that they had a Megazer on their hands, they set out to search for the galaxy it came from.
They found that the Nacalacatha galaxy is about seven billion light-years away and has a long tail on one side, which can be seen in radio waves.
The light from the megamass was emitted about five billion years ago, when the universe was only two-thirds of its present age.
The main goal of the MeerKAT project is to use gas observations in distant galaxies to help understand how galaxies have evolved over the past nine billion years.
Because these radio signals are weak, the researchers aim to get thousands of hours of observations using MeerKAT to detect them.
Data is crushed by powerful computers to help discover signs of interesting distant and ancient objects.
“It is possible that MeerKAT has doubled the known number of these rare phenomena,” Darling said.
“It was once thought that galaxies merge more than once, and the newly discovered giant megaphones in OH will allow us to test this hypothesis.”
This story originally appeared on the sun It is reproduced here with permission.
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