Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

NASA's Hubble Extends Stellar Tape Measure 10 Times Farther Into Space

10 April 2014 - 5:00pm
Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers now can precisely measure the distance of stars up to 10,000 light-years away -- 10 times farther than previously possible.

Construction to Begin on NASA Spacecraft Set to Visit Asteroid in 2018

10 April 2014 - 4:01pm
NASA's team that will conduct the first U.S. mission to collect samples from an asteroid has been given the go-ahead to begin building the spacecraft, flight instruments and ground system, and launch support facilities.

Hubble Stretches Stellar Tape Measure 10 Times Farther into Space

10 April 2014 - 3:00pm

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Astronomers continue refining the precision of distance measurement techniques to better understand the dimensions of the universe. Calculating the age of the universe, its expansion rate, and the nature of dark energy all depend on the precise distance measurements to stars and galaxies. If the astronomical yardsticks are off, the astronomical interpretation may be flawed. The most reliable method for making astronomical distance measurements is to use straightforward geometry where the 186-million-mile diameter of Earth's orbit is used to construct a baseline of a triangle, much as a land surveyor would use. If a target star is close enough, it will appear to zigzag on the sky during the year as a reflection of Earth's orbit about the Sun. This technique is called parallax. The stars are so far away that the angle of this parallax shift is incredibly tiny. An innovative new observing technique has extended Hubble's yardstick 10 times farther into our galaxy, out to a distance of 7,500 light-years from Earth.

Ringed asteroid will make a star blink out over Africa

10 April 2014 - 12:19pm
The first known asteroid with Saturn-like rings will cross in front of a star this month, perhaps revealing clues to how the thin rings stay in shape

Dark matter hunters turn to nano-blasts and enzyme ice

9 April 2014 - 4:34pm
Smaller, cheaper detectors inspired by biomaterials and grenade chemistry could provide clear signs of dark matter particle strikes

Chance Meeting Creates Celestial Diamond Ring

9 April 2014 - 11:00am
Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula PN A66 33 — usually known as Abell 33. Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost circular on the sky.

Planetary science: A moon of Saturn hides an ocean

9 April 2014 - 1:00am

Planetary science: A moon of Saturn hides an ocean

Nature 508, 7495 (2014). doi:10.1038/508153a

Beneath Enceladus's south pole lies a watery ocean that could hold organic molecules that form the basis of life.Luciano Iess at the Sapienza University of Rome and his colleagues analysed gravity measurements from the Cassini spacecraft during three flybys of this moon of Saturn

Squirting moons face off in race to find alien life

8 April 2014 - 5:42pm
Europa and Enceladus both appear to spout jets of water and have buried oceans, making them attractive targets for future probes that will seek signs of life

Sun traces giant figures-of-eight in the sky

8 April 2014 - 12:00pm
A pinhole camera recorded this time-lapse image over a whole year, showing how the path of the sun across the sky traces a shape called an analemma

Critical phase in missing matter hunt

8 April 2014 - 8:09am
An experiment located at the bottom of a US gold mine could offer the best chance yet of detecting dark matter, scientists believe.

VIDEO: US dark matter hunt at critical phase

7 April 2014 - 11:55pm
The quest to find the most mysterious particles in the Universe is entering a critical phase, scientists say.

Cosmos speed-check for dark energy

7 April 2014 - 7:05pm
Scientists produce a precise measurement of the rate at which the early Universe was expanding to try to get new insights on dark energy.

Volcanic blasts hint that Mercury is a migrant planet

7 April 2014 - 5:48pm
Explosions seem to have rocked the planet Mercury for most of its existence – and that shouldn't be possible if it formed close to the sun

VIDEO: Nasa releases solar flare footage

5 April 2014 - 1:51pm
Nasa has released dramatic footage of a solar flare, captured by its Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Best dark matter signal yet hints at heftier particles

4 April 2014 - 7:23pm
Gamma rays from the Milky Way's middle are increasingly likely to be signs of dark matter, and hints of the same signal from dwarf galaxies boost the case

Smoky mass map weighs fat ancient galaxy cluster

4 April 2014 - 5:11pm
It's not something in your eye. It's not smoke from a late-night barbecue. You're looking at a map of the most massive ancient galaxy cluster ever seen

Gaia Live in School: Inspiring the next generation of European Space Scientists

4 April 2014 - 12:03pm

Students following 'Gaia Live in School' event

Will Gaia discover planets that humans would be able to live on? What is a quasar? How many people are actually working on the mission at the moment? These are just some of the varied questions that school students put to some of ESA’s Gaia experts during the Gaia Live in School Event on 25 March 2014.

More than 2000 students, mainly aged 10-12 years old, from 34 schools in 10 European countries followed a live webcast from the Gaia mission planning room at ESOC, ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Germany. This special webcast gave students a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes of the Gaia mission, with Timo Prusti, the Gaia Project Scientist, and David Milligan, the Gaia Spacecraft Operations Manager answering many of the students’ questions.

Each school participating in the Gaia Live event was linked to a leading research institute in its area. On the day of the event, two postgraduate students, the ‘Gaia Explainers’ from each institute, went into the schools to deliver lively and interactive presentations about Gaia. Hands-on demonstrations and videos introduced the school students to the mission, and to key concepts such as the Solar System, the Milky Way and parallax, to aid their understanding of the science of Gaia before linking up to the live webcast.

Thumbs up at 'Gaia Live in School' event

In the first part of the live webcast students watched David Milligan describe Gaia’s journey to its orbit about L2, a gravitational equilibrium point that is 1.5 kilometres from Earth, how the spacecraft is operated, and how data are sent to and from the satellite. Timo Prusti continued by explaining why it is important to make a 3D map of the Milky Way, how Gaia will help to reveal our Galaxy’s history, and the other exciting discoveries Gaia will make.

Timo and David then answered a range of excellent questions from the schools, which had been submitted in advance of the event. The webcast further stimulated the students’ curiosity, and even more questions for the experts came streaming in from all 34 schools to ESOC by web chat – as many as possible were answered live on air.

Following the webcast, the postgraduate students completed their sessions in the schools with another question and answer session, as well as further demonstrations and activities.

Finnish students participating in 'Gaia Live in Schools' event

In preparation for the event the postgraduate students participated in an intensive training course, held at ESTEC, where they explored how to present science concepts to groups of school students. Working together with the teachers involved at each school, the local event programmes were adapted to ensure that they were relevant for each participating school audience. The enthusiasm of the teachers helped ensure the success of the event at each school.

The event was organised as a partnership between the Gaia Research for European Astronomy Training Network (GREAT) and ESA, with many of the ‘Gaia Explainers’ being students in the GREAT Initial Training Network.


Watch the replay of the ESOC part of the Gaia Live event here.

For more information about the event and the schools taking part, visit the GREAT event web page.

Authors: Rebecca Barnes (HE Space Operations for ESA), Nicholas Walton (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge)

VIDEO: Saturn moon hides 'great lake'

3 April 2014 - 10:58pm
The evidence for an ocean of water under the surface of one of Saturn's moons is overwhelming, according to scientists. Pallab Ghosh reports.

Deep Ocean Detected Inside Saturn's Moon

3 April 2014 - 10:21pm
NASA's Cassini spacecraft and Deep Space Network have uncovered evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus harbors a large underground ocean of liquid water, furthering scientific interest in the moon as a potential home to extraterrestrial microbes.

Saturn moon hides 'great lake'

3 April 2014 - 7:33pm
New measurements by Nasa's Cassini probe suggest Saturn's moon Enceladus hides a mass of liquid water as big as Lake Superior under its icy surface.