Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Mystery of lemon-shaped Moon solved

30 July 2014 - 6:14pm
Tides and spin gave the Moon its strange lemon shape more than four billion years ago, research reveals.

ALMA Finds Double Star with Weird and Wild Planet-forming Discs

30 July 2014 - 6:00pm
Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have found wildly misaligned planet-forming gas discs around the two young stars in the binary system HK Tauri. These new ALMA observations provide the clearest picture ever of protoplanetary discs in a double star. The new result also helps to explain why so many exoplanets — unlike the planets in the Solar System — came to have strange, eccentric or inclined orbits. The results will appear in the journal Nature on 31 July 2014.

Leaving Earth made the moon lemon-shaped

30 July 2014 - 6:00pm
The moon has odd lemon-like bulges on each side. A new model shows they were caused by the pull of Earth's gravity when the moon was young






Pigeon paradox reveals quantum cosmic connections

30 July 2014 - 6:00pm
A thought experiment has exposed a new kind of quantum link that could connect every particle in the universe, all the time






Astronomers weigh up Milky Way

30 July 2014 - 1:11am
The Milky Way is lighter than previously thought and is only about half the mass of a neighbouring galaxy, researchers conclude.

Misaligned protoplanetary disks in a young binary star system

30 July 2014 - 1:00am

Misaligned protoplanetary disks in a young binary star system

Nature 511, 7511 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13521

Authors: Eric L. N. Jensen & Rachel Akeson

Many extrasolar planets follow orbits that differ from the nearly coplanar and circular orbits found in our Solar System; their orbits may be eccentric or inclined with respect to the host star’s equator, and the population of giant planets orbiting close to their host stars suggests appreciable orbital migration. There is at present no consensus on what produces such orbits. Theoretical explanations often invoke interactions with a binary companion star in an orbit that is inclined relative to the planet’s orbital plane. Such mechanisms require significant mutual inclinations between the planetary and binary star orbital planes. The protoplanetary disks in a few young binaries are misaligned, but often the measurements of these misalignments are sensitive only to a small portion of the inner disk, and the three-dimensional misalignment of the bulk of the planet-forming disk mass has hitherto not been determined. Here we report that the protoplanetary disks in the young binary system HK Tauri are misaligned by 60 to 68 degrees, such that one or both of the disks are significantly inclined to the binary orbital plane. Our results demonstrate that the necessary conditions exist for misalignment-driven mechanisms to modify planetary orbits, and that these conditions are present at the time of planet formation, apparently because of the binary formation process.

‘Go’ for science

29 July 2014 - 2:42pm

Following the extensive in-orbit commissioning review and after encountering the unexpected challenges highlighted previously on the blog, Gaia is now ready to begin its science mission.

Read the announcement published today on the ESA Portal: Gaia: 'Go' for science

And for a full quantitative analysis of Gaia’s expected science performance based on the results of commissioning, see: Commissioning review: Gaia ready to start routine operations

Gaia:Gaia: 'Go' for science

29 July 2014 - 1:58pm
Following extensive in-orbit commissioning and several unexpected challenges, ESA's billion-star surveyor, Gaia, is now ready to begin its science mission.

Perseid Meteors vs. the Supermoon

28 July 2014 - 11:54pm
Which is brighter--a flurry of Perseid fireballs or a supermoon? Sky watchers will find out this August when the biggest and brightest full Moon of 2014 arrives just in time for the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower.

Mars Rover Sets Off-World Driving Record

28 July 2014 - 9:30pm
NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving, and is not far from completing the first extraterrestrial marathon. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.

Venus Express:Venus Express: up above the clouds so high

28 July 2014 - 5:50pm
ESA's Venus Express spacecraft has climbed to a new orbit following its daring aerobraking experiment, and will now resume observations of this fascinating planet for at least a few more months.

NASA’s Long-Lived Mars Opportunity Rover Sets Off-World Driving Record

28 July 2014 - 5:00pm
NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.

Cassini Spacecraft Reveals 101 Geysers and more on Icy Saturn Moon

28 July 2014 - 5:00pm
Scientists using mission data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have identified 101 distinct geysers erupting on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. Their analysis suggests it is possible for liquid water to reach from the moon’s underground sea all the way to its surface.

New Views of the Rosetta Comet

25 July 2014 - 1:44am
As the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe approaches Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for an August rendezvous, the comet's core is coming into sharper focus. Today ESA released a new set of images and a must-see 3D model.

Mystery in the Perseus Cluster

24 July 2014 - 11:14pm
An X-ray signal from the Perseus cluster of galaxies, which researchers say cannot be explained by known physics, could be a key clue to the nature of Dark Matter.

Rosetta's comet seen in close-up

24 July 2014 - 4:11pm
Europe's Rosetta probe has acquired new images of the comet it is chasing through space.

Rosetta:Hints of features

24 July 2014 - 2:36pm
In this week's images, taken on 20 July from a distance of 5500 km, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's largest features are beginning to stand out in the OSIRIS narrow angle camera view.

Hubble Finds Three Surprisingly Dry Exoplanets

24 July 2014 - 1:14pm
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the sun -- and have come up nearly dry.

Hubble Finds Three Surprisingly Dry Exoplanets

24 July 2014 - 1:00pm

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Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the Sun and have come up nearly dry. The planets spectroscopically surveyed have only one-tenth to one one-thousandth the amount of water predicted by standard planet-formation theories. The planets are not habitable because they are gaseous and are as big as Jupiter. They lie so much closer to their host star than Jupiter is to our Sun, so their atmospheres are seething between 1,500 and 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, this result suggests that some percentage of Earth-size exoplanets may be more deficient in water than predicted. And, water is a necessary prerequisite for life as we know it. The search for water-bearing terrestrial worlds may be more challenging than thought for future space telescopes. And, scientists may have to revisit their theories of planet formation.