Technology

Powerful “space laser” spotted shining directly at Earth from 5 billion light-years away

Astronomers have discovered a POWERFUL space laser emitting from a distant galaxy.

The beam of radio waves is what scientists call a “megamaser,” and this is the most distant yet, emerging 5 BILLION light-years from Earth.

The Arp 220 galaxy is among the first to be discovered to emit powerful space lasers known as

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The Arp 220 galaxy is among the first to be discovered to emit powerful space lasers known as “megamasers.”Photo credit: Nasa/Esa

It was discovered by an international team of scientists using South Africa’s ‘MeerKAT’, a radio telescope consisting of 64 antennas.

Megamasers are naturally occurring radio wave lasers that can help shed light on galaxy collisions.

“Megamasers behave like bright lights that say, ‘Here is a collision of galaxies, making new stars and feeding massive black holes,'” said study co-author Jeremy Darling of the University of Colorado.

When galaxies merge, the gas they contain becomes extremely dense, creating a specific radio signal known as a maser.

Megamasers are powerful masers created in giant galaxy collisions, like rays from cosmic beacons.

The excavation of the most distant megamaser yet was detailed by Darling and colleagues in research published last week.

To reflect its record-holding status, the team named the space laser Nkalakatha – an isiZulu word meaning “big boss”.

“Nkalakatha is one of the most powerful known OH megamasers and the most distant megamaser of its kind that has ever been discovered, so he really is a ‘Big Boss,'” said study co-author and atronomer Professor Andrew Baker of Rutgers University.

“We’re assuming it’s just the first of many OH [hydroxyl] Megamasers to be discovered as the project progresses.”

Instead of emitting visible light, a maser emits microwave and radio wavelengths that are amplified by cosmic forces.

When the team realized they had a Megamaser in their hands, they began the hunt for the galaxy it came from.

They found that the Nkalakatha galaxy is about seven billion light-years away and has a long tail visible in radio waves on one side.

The light from the megamaser was emitted about five billion years ago, when the universe was only two-thirds of its current age.

The main goal of the MeerKAT project is to use gas observations in distant galaxies to better understand how galaxies have evolved over the past nine billion years.

Because these radio signals are weak, researchers are targeting thousands of observation hours with MeerKAT to spot them.

The data is processed by powerful computers to find clues to distant and ancient objects of interest.

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“MeerKAT is likely to double the known number of these rare phenomena,” Darling said.

“In the past it was thought that galaxies merge more frequently, and the newly discovered OH megamasers will allow us to test this hypothesis.”

The laser was discovered with South Africa's MeerKAT telescope array

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The laser was discovered with South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope array
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/8625603/powerful-space-laser-earth-lightyears-detected/ Powerful “space laser” spotted shining directly at Earth from 5 billion light-years away

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