Astronomers detect a powerful radio-wave laser

The first hydroxyl megamaser of its kind.


Using the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa, astronomers have detected the most distant powerful radio-wave laser, called a ‘megamaser’ of its kind. This is the first hydroxyl megamaser of its kind.

Magamasers are usually created after the galactic collision. When galaxies collide, the gas they contain becomes extremely dense and can trigger concentrated light beams to shoot out.

The light from the megamaser has traveled 58 thousand billion billion (58 followed by 21 zeros) kilometers to Earth.

hydroxyl maser
Artist’s impression of a hydroxyl maser. Inside a galaxy merger are hydroxyl molecules, composed of one atom of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. When one molecule absorbs a photon at 18cm wavelength, it emits two photons of the same wavelength. When molecular gas is very dense, typically when two galaxies merge, this emission gets very bright and can be detected by radio telescopes such as the MeerKAT. © IDIA/LADUMA using data from NASA/StSci/SKAO/Mol

Astronomers named this object Nkalakatha’ [pronounced ng-kuh-la-kuh-tah]. It is an isiZulu word meaning ‘big boss.’

host galaxy of the hydroxyl megamaser
The three-colour optical image of the host galaxy of the hydroxyl megamaser, taken from the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) on the 8.2 m Subaru Telescope.

Dr. Marcin Glowacki, who previously worked at the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, said“The megamaser was detected on the first night of a survey involving more than 3000 hours of observations by the MeerKAT telescope.”

“We have follow-up observations of the megamaser planned and hope to make many more discoveries.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Marcin Glowacki et al. LADUMA: Discovery of a luminous OH megamaser at z>0.5. DOI: 10.48550/arXiv.2204.02523
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