Masers in the Sky

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Science  01 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5731, pp. 71-72
DOI: 10.1126/science.1114855

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The existence of astronomical masers (which operate on the same principles as lasers, except that they involve microwave radiation instead of visible light) was first postulated in the 1960s to explain some of the highly unusual emission properties of interstellar OH (the hydroxyl radical). Maser emission has now been detected from many different molecules in different astronomical environments, but direct evidence for maser amplification has been hard to come by. In his Perspective, Elitzur highlights the report by Weisberg et al. , who provide direct evidence for an interstellar amplifier in the direction of the pulsar B1641-45. Thanks to masers, radio astronomy has achieved extremely higher resolution, but similar data are required at other wavelengths to obtain a full understanding of astronomical sources.