Looking at the Distant Universe with the MeerKAT Array: Discovery of a Luminous OH Megamaser at z > 0.5

SKA South Africa/MeerKAT

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In the local universe, OH megamasers (OHMs) are detected almost exclusively in infrared-luminous galaxies, with a prevalence that increases with IR luminosity, suggesting that they trace gas-rich galaxy mergers. Given the proximity of the rest frequencies of OH and the hyperfine transition of neutral atomic hydrogen (H i), radio surveys to probe the cosmic evolution of H i in galaxies also offer exciting prospects for exploiting OHMs to probe the cosmic history of gas-rich mergers. Using observations for the Looking At the Distant Universe with the MeerKAT Array (LADUMA) deep H i survey, we report the first untargeted detection of an OHM at z > 0.5, LADUMA J033046.20-275518.1 (nicknamed "Nkalakatha"). The host system, WISEA J033046.26-275518.3, is an infrared-luminous radio galaxy whose optical redshift z ≈ 0.52 confirms the MeerKAT emission-line detection as OH at a redshift z OH = 0.5225 ± 0.0001 rather than H i at lower redshift. The detected spectral line has 18.4σ peak significance, a width of 459 ± 59 km s-1, and an integrated luminosity of (6.31 ± 0.18 [statistical] ± 0.31 [systematic]) × 103 L ⊙, placing it among the most luminous OHMs known. The galaxy's far-infrared luminosity L FIR = (1.576 ±0.013) × 1012 L ⊙ marks it as an ultraluminous infrared galaxy; its ratio of OH and infrared luminosities is similar to those for lower-redshift OHMs. A comparison between optical and OH redshifts offers a slight indication of an OH outflow. This detection represents the first step toward a systematic exploitation of OHMs as a tracer of galaxy growth at high redshifts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL7
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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