Astronomers spot cosmic water inside distant galaxy

December 18th, 2008 - 4:30 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 18 (ANI): Astronomers at Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, have spotted a mega maser emission inside a galaxy at the edge of the visible cosmos, which is the telltale sign of the presence of water.

According to a report in New Scientist, the telltale sign of the water is maser emission - the microwave equivalent of laser light - coming from warm water vapour inside a distant quasar.

The quasar, called MG J0414+0534, is so distant that its light has travelled for 11.1 billion years to reach the Earth, having left when the universe was only 2.5 billion years old.

It beats the previous distance record for a watery galaxy by many billions of light years.

We now know water is out there, said Violette Impellizzeri from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

Because water masers arise close to the cores of galaxies, our result opens new interesting possibilities for studying supermassive black holes at a time when galaxies were forming, she added.

Impellizzeris team used the 100-metre Effelsberg radio telescope to observe the quasar, which is particularly bright thanks to an effect called gravitational lensing.

The gravity of a foreground galaxy acts like a cosmic telescope, magnifying the quasar’’s light and distorting it into four separate images.

Two of the four components were bright enough to reveal strong water maser emission, which the team confirmed using the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

The maser emission is 10,000 times as luminous as the Sun.

The water maser emission occurs because water molecules are bumped into excited states by collisions with other particles. They then re-emit their extra energy as microwaves.

In doing so, they prompt other excited molecules to emit microwaves at the same frequency, amplifying the signal.

Only about 5 percent of nearby energetic galaxies contain detectable water masers.

The fact that Impellizzeris team discovered one in the first distant galaxy they looked at suggests these masers must have been far more common in the early universe than they are now.

The fact that its the first one is fantastic, MPI team member John McKean told New Scientist. It will really motivate others to look for objects like this, he added. (ANI)

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