Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Rosetta to Swoop Down on Comet in February

19 December 2014 - 7:48pm
The European Space Agency’s orbiting Rosetta spacecraft is expected to come within four miles of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in February 2015. The low flyby will be an opportunity for Rosetta to obtain imagery with a resolution of a few inches per pixel.

Reborn Kepler Spacecraft Finds 'Super-Earth'

19 December 2014 - 3:49pm
NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft is operating in a new mission profile called K2. Using publicly available data, astronomers have confirmed K2's first exoplanet discovery, proving Kepler can still find planets.

Europa's geysers disappear in a cloud of mystery

19 December 2014 - 11:34am
Plumes of water from Jupiter's moon Europa have not reappeared since their discovery – and evidence now suggests they may not have existed to begin with

XMM-Newton spots monster black hole hidden in tiny galaxy

19 December 2014 - 10:51am

First impressions can be deceptive – astronomers have used ESA's X-ray satellite XMM-Newton to find a massive black hole hungrily feeding within a tiny dwarf galaxy, despite there being no hint of this black hole from optical observations.

Origin of high-latitude auroras revealed

18 December 2014 - 5:27pm

Auroras are the most visible manifestation of the Sun's effect on Earth, but many aspects of these spectacular displays are still poorly understood. Thanks to ESA's Cluster and NASA's IMAGE satellites working together, a particular type of very high-latitude aurora has now been explained.

NASA, Planetary Scientists Find Meteoritic Evidence of Mars Water Reservoir

18 December 2014 - 4:00pm

NASA and an international team of planetary scientists have found evidence in meteorites on Earth that indicates Mars has a distinct and global reservoir of water or ice near its surface.

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes First Exoplanet Find of New Mission

18 December 2014 - 4:00pm

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission -- K2.

VIDEO: New lights give hope to stargazers

18 December 2014 - 2:45pm

New streetlights could reduce the orange glare of older sodium lights meaning clearer conditions for drivers and stargazers.

Herschel's view of the early Universe reveals galaxy cluster fireworks

18 December 2014 - 11:28am

Astronomers using ESA's Herschel space observatory have found, for the first time, fireworks of star birth within galaxies at the dense core of a massive early Universe galaxy cluster. This frenzy of star formation reveals the young lives of now "red and dead" elliptical galaxies and gives new clues to the evolution of some of the largest structures in the Universe.

Philae comet landing 'all a blur'

17 December 2014 - 6:06pm

An image has been released that shows the hairy moment that the Philae comet lander bounced back into space.

#RosettaWatch: Comet lander could wake up next year

17 December 2014 - 6:02pm
The Philae lander is getting enough sunlight to keep warm, team members say, and the Rosetta spacecraft may have already taken pictures of its landing spot

Star's flying visit could fling comets at Earth

17 December 2014 - 5:16pm
It might not happen for a quarter of a million years, but a nearby star coming closer to the sun could send planetary remnants hurtling to Earth

NASA to Discuss Today Asteroid Redirect Mission Capture Concept, Next Step in Journey to Mars

17 December 2014 - 4:00pm

NASA will host a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EST today during which agency officials will discuss and answer questions on the selection of an Asteroid Redirect Mission concept.

The Hot Blue Stars of Messier 47

17 December 2014 - 11:00am
This spectacular image of the star cluster Messier 47 was taken using the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This young open cluster is dominated by a sprinkling of brilliant blue stars but also contains a few contrasting red giant stars.

Astronomy: Exoplanet seen from Earth

17 December 2014 - 12:00am

Astronomy: Exoplanet seen from Earth

Nature 516, 7531 (2014). doi:10.1038/516291e

Using a modest-sized ground-based telescope, astronomers have spotted a planet twice the size of Earth passing in front of its host star.Researchers typically study planets outside the Solar System using space telescopes or much larger telescopes on Earth, but studies with space telescopes are

Astrobiology: Prescient words on comets and life

17 December 2014 - 12:00am

Astrobiology: Prescient words on comets and life

Nature 516, 7531 (2014). doi:10.1038/516329a

Author: Milton Wainwright

The landing of the Philae probe on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko last month has led to speculation that comets might have delivered the building-block elements of life to Earth — an idea anticipated by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion more than a century ago in his 1880

The exclusion of a significant range of ages in a massive star cluster

17 December 2014 - 12:00am

The exclusion of a significant range of ages in a massive star cluster

Nature 516, 7531 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13969

Authors: Chengyuan Li, Richard de Grijs & Licai Deng

Stars spend most of their lifetimes on the main sequence in the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. The extended main-sequence turn-off regions—containing stars leaving the main sequence after having spent all of the hydrogen in their cores—found in massive (more than a few tens of thousands of solar masses), intermediate-age (about one to three billion years old) star clusters are usually interpreted as evidence of internal age spreads of more than 300 million years, although young clusters are thought to quickly lose any remaining star-forming fuel following a period of rapid gas expulsion on timescales of order 107 years. Here we report, on the basis of a combination of high-resolution imaging observations and theoretical modelling, that the stars beyond the main sequence in the two-billion-year-old cluster NGC 1651, characterized by a mass of about 1.7 × 105 solar masses, can be explained only by a single-age stellar population, even though the cluster has a clearly extended main-sequence turn-off region. The most plausible explanation for the existence of such extended regions invokes a population of rapidly rotating stars, although the secondary effects of the prolonged stellar lifetimes associated with such a stellar population mixture are as yet poorly understood. From preliminary analysis of previously obtained data, we find that similar morphologies are apparent in the Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams of at least five additional intermediate-age star clusters, suggesting that an extended main-sequence turn-off region does not necessarily imply the presence of a significant internal age dispersion.

Curiosity Detects Methane Spike on Mars

16 December 2014 - 10:17pm
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

Asteroid soil could fertilise farms in space

16 December 2014 - 8:30pm

We can now grow plants in microgravity – and crops grown in asteroid soil could sustain vast human populations off-planet

Methane 'belches' detected on Mars

16 December 2014 - 6:39pm

Nasa's Curiosity rover has detected "belches" of methane gas on Mars - a gas that could hint at past or even present life on the planet.