Letter

Nature 456, 927-929 (18 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07544; Received 21 December 2007; Accepted 6 October 2008

A gravitationally lensed water maser in the early Universe

C. M. Violette Impellizzeri1, John P. McKean1, Paola Castangia1,2, Alan L. Roy1, Christian Henkel1, Andreas Brunthaler1 & Olaf Wucknitz3

  1. Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, D-53121 Bonn, Germany
  2. INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, Loc. Poggio dei Pini, Strada 54, I-09012 Capoterra (CA), Italy
  3. Argelander-Institut für Astronomie, Auf dem Hügel 71, D-53121 Bonn, Germany

Correspondence to: C. M. Violette Impellizzeri1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.M.V.I. (Email: violette@mpifr-bonn.mpg.de).

Water masers1, 2, 3, 4 are found in dense molecular clouds closely associated with supermassive black holes at the centres of active galaxies. On the basis of the understanding of the local water-maser luminosity function5, it was expected that masers at intermediate and high redshifts would be extremely rare. However, galaxies at redshifts z > 2 might be quite different from those found locally, not least because of more frequent mergers and interaction events. Here we use gravitational lensing to search for masers at higher redshifts than would otherwise be possible, and find a water maser at redshift 2.64 in the dust- and gas-rich, gravitationally lensed type-1 quasar MG J0414+0534 (refs 6–13). The isotropic luminosity is 10,000Unfortunately we are unable to provide accessible alternative text for this. If you require assistance to access this image, or to obtain a text description, please contact npg@nature.com (Unfortunately we are unable to provide accessible alternative text for this. If you require assistance to access this image, or to obtain a text description, please contact npg@nature.com, solar luminosity), which is twice that of the most powerful local water maser14 and half that of the most distant maser previously known15. Using the locally determined luminosity function5, the probability of finding a maser this luminous associated with any single active galaxy is 10-6. The fact that we see such a maser in the first galaxy we observe must mean that the volume densities and luminosities of masers are higher at redshift 2.64.

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