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Water in the early Universe

Submitter: Olaf Wucknitz
Description: Even though the 100m radio telescope in Effelsberg is one of the largest in the world, it is still far too insensitive to detect the emission from water masers at the edge of the Universe. A group working with PhD student Violette Impellizzeri based at the MPIfR and AIfA in Bonn used a cosmic telescope of galactic dimensions to provide an additional factor of 35 magnification to make such observations possible.

The picture shows the four images of a background quasar caused by the gravitational lens effect of a foreground galaxy. On top right you see the detection spectrum showing the water maser line being redshifted from 22GHz down to 6GHz. When the observed radiation was emitted 11.1 billion years ago, the Universe was still in its early youth with an age of 2.5 billion years and only a quarter of its current size. Water has never been detected at such a huge distance and correspondingly early cosmic time before.

This object and other similar candidates are currently being studied with telescopes all over the world, including the EVN and Westerbork. Among the members of the research team are Andreas Brunthaler (former JIVE support scientist), John McKean (soon to join ASTRON) and Olaf Wucknitz (former ANGLES postdoc at JIVE). Global VLBI continuum observations conducted to study the mass distribution of the lens will be analysed by Filomena Volino (JIVE summer student 2006).

Further information: research paper in Nature 456 (2008) 927, press releases of the MPIfR, University of Bonn (in German), NRAO, INAF (in Italian).
Copyright: MPIfR/AIfA
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