The Australia Telescope Compact Array has been used in a fast surveying mode to study
the 22-GHz transition of water in two small sample regions of the southern Galactic plane.
The observations allow an unbiased search for water masers, including any that may have
no association with masers from other molecules (or indeed, no association with any other
detectable celestial object). Positions with arcsecond accuracy were obtained from the original
survey data for detected sources, and these were re-observed at an epoch more than two years
later. Variability of the spectra between the epochs was considerable: our total of 32 masers
comprises 24 detected at both epochs, two detected at only the first epoch and six detected
at only the follow-up epoch. The success of our surveying mode shows it to be a practical
strategy for the difficult task of extending unbiased water maser surveys to a large portion of
the Galactic plane. Our results show quantitatively the effect of variability on the completeness
of surveys conducted at a single epoch.
Most of our maser detections are newdiscoveries. Only four had previously been detected (in
searches towards interesting targets in the survey area). The high density of water masers from
our unbiased survey supports earlier suggestions that they are the most populous maser species,
and one of the most sensitive and reliable tracers of massive young stellar objects – newly
forming massive young stars. The spectra of nine masers show high-velocity emission, and
they show a striking preponderance of blueshifted high-velocity features. This is compatible
with such blueshifts being a characteristic of populations dominated by masers at the earliest
evolutionary stage of star formation, in some cases prior to the onset of methanol masers.
Amongst the high-velocity emission sources there are two new examples where blueshifted
high-velocity outflows dominate the total emission; these substantially increase the previously
known meagre population of five such objects and suggest that they may be surprisingly