A powerful telescope in South Africa has detected a space laser, known as a megamaser, 5 billion light-years from Earth. Scholars have called it Nkalakatha, an Izulu word meaning “big chief.”
Nkalakatha is the furthest hydroxyl of its kind ever detected, and was discovered by the MeerKAT telescope on the first night of a survey that was expected to include 3,000 hours of observation. The team of scientists, working for the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research, published their work in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“It’s impressive that in just one night of observations, we actually found a record-breaking megamaser,” said Dr Marcin Glowacki, of Curtin University’s Center for International Radio Astronomy Research. press release. “It shows how good the telescope is.”
Megamaser is usually created when two galaxies violently collide with each other, causing an explosion of light. MeerKAT is designed to capture the type of light — found on the “radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum,” according to astronomers — that Nkalakatha emits.
Going forward, astronomers plan to use MeerKAT to look deep into narrow parts of the sky with the goal of learning more about how the universe has evolved over time.
“Massive OH devices act like flashing lights that say ‘Here’s the collision of galaxies that makes new stars and feeds supermassive black holes,'” She said Jeremy Darling, a professor at the University of Colorado, is a megamagazer expert and co-author of the study.
The scientists noted in their work that “the telescope is very new, so we hope this discovery is one of many to come.”
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