The MeerKAT telescope has discovered the most distant megamaser "Big Boss"

A team of researchers led by Marcin Głowacki of the International Center for Radio Astronomy

research using a radio telescopeMeerKAT, located in the Republic of South Africa, has detected a powerful radio wave laser (megamaser) at a record distance of five billion light years from Earth. The scientists named the object they found Nkalakatha (ng-kuh-la-kuh-tah), which means "big boss" in Zulu.

View of the megamaser's parent galaxy from Earth. The object itself is not visible to the naked eye, marked with a cross at the bottom of the image. Source: International Center for Radio Astronomy Research

Megamasers are natural sources of forcedmicrowave radiation, the isotropic luminosity of which exceeds a thousand solar luminosities. According to the researchers, the source of radiation they found megamaser are hydroxyl molecules, consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom.

When a photon hits such a molecule, itinduces the emission of an additional photon. If the molecular gas is very dense, usually when two galaxies merge, a chain reaction starts, the radiation becomes very bright and can be detected by radio telescopes.

"When galaxies collide, the gas theycontains, becomes extremely dense and can launch concentrated beams of light, says Glovatsky. "Nkalakatha is the first hydroxyl megamaser observed with MeerKAT and is the most distant megamaser found to date."

Astronomers note that the discovery was made inthe first night of a large research program involving over 3,000 hours of MeerKAT observations. The team uses a telescope to study small patches of the sky in detail.

The researchers plan to determine the distributionatomic hydrogen in various galaxies (from ancient to modern). A joint analysis of cosmic hydrogen and hydroxyl masers, scientists say, will help them better understand how the universe has evolved over time.

“We will continue observing the megamaser and hope to make many more discoveries,” Glovatsky said.

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