A powerful radio-wave laser named “megamaser” has been observed by the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. The record-breaking find is the most distant megamaser of its kind ever detected.
The light from the megamaser has traveled 58 thousand billion kilometers to Earth. The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers led by Dr. Marcin Glowacki. Glowacki previously worked at the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.
Glowacki is now based at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia. Glowacki said that megamasers are usually created when two galaxies violently collide in the Universe.
The record-breaking object was named “Nkalakatha”. It is an isiZulu word meaning “big boss.” Glowacki said the megamaser was detected on the first night of a survey involving more than 3,000 hours of observations by the MeerKAT telescope.
Scientists are using MeerKAT to observe narrow regions of the sky extremely deeply and will measure atomic hydrogen in galaxies from the distant past to now. The combination of studying hydroxl masers and hydrogen will help astronomers better understand how the Universe has evolved over time. MeerKAT is a precursor instrument for the Square Kilometre Array which is a global initiative to build the world’s largest radio telescopes in Western Australia and South Africa.