Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

NASA’s New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

27 July 2015 - 9:49am
Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.

Australia's role in search for alien life

27 July 2015 - 9:44am

Searching for alien life with a telescope down under

VIDEO: All the Pluto pictures in 60 seconds

27 July 2015 - 9:43am

It's the dwarf planet that keeps on giving. Now Newsround has compiled all the pictures of Pluto so far into one manageable minute.

Pluto may have 'nitrogen glaciers'

27 July 2015 - 9:42am

Pluto would appear to have glaciers of nitrogen ice, the latest pictures from the New Horizons probe suggest.

Earth-like alien world looms into view through Kepler telescope

24 July 2015 - 9:15am

The alien planet is a rocky world circling a sun-like star at a distance that should allow it to carry liquid water

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

24 July 2015 - 9:15am
NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

Earth-like world in Kepler haul

24 July 2015 - 9:14am

A haul of planets from Nasa's Kepler telescope includes a world sharing many characteristics with Earth.

ALMA Witnesses Assembly of Galaxies in the Early Universe for the First Time

23 July 2015 - 9:33am
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has been used to detect the most distant clouds of star-forming gas yet found in normal galaxies in the early Universe. The new observations allow astronomers to start to see how the first galaxies were built up and how they cleared the cosmic fog during the era of reionisation. This is the first time that such galaxies are seen as more than just faint blobs.

Astronomers witness assembly of galaxies in the early Universe for the first time

23 July 2015 - 9:29am

When the first galaxies started to form a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, the Universe was full of a fog of hydrogen gas. But as more and more brilliant sources — both stars and quasars powered by huge black holes — started to shine they cleared away the mist and made the Universe transparent to ultraviolet light. Astronomers call this the epoch of reionisation, but little is known about these first galaxies, and up to now they have just been seen as very faint blobs. But now new observations using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) are starting to change this.

A team of astronomers led by Roberto Maiolino from the University’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute for Cosmology trained ALMA on galaxies that were known to be seen only about 800 million years after the Big Bang. The astronomers were not looking for the light from stars, but instead for the faint glow of ionised carbon coming from the clouds of gas from which the stars were forming. They wanted to study the interaction between a young generation of stars and the cold clumps that were assembling into these first galaxies.

They were also not looking for the extremely brilliant rare objects — such as quasars and galaxies with very high rates of star formation — that had been seen up to now. Instead they concentrated on rather less dramatic, but much more common, galaxies that reionised the Universe and went on to turn into the bulk of the galaxies that we see around us now.

From one of the galaxies — given the label BDF 3299 — ALMA could pick up a faint but clear signal from the glowing carbon. However, this glow wasn’t coming from the centre of the galaxy, but rather from one side.

“These observations enable an unprecedented understanding of the assembly process of the first galaxies formed in the Universe – for the first time we can observe and disentangle the different components contributing to the earliest phases of galaxy formation,” said Maiolino. “These observations have enabled us to test with unprecedented detail theories of galaxy formation in the early Universe.”

The astronomers think that the off-centre location of the glow is because the central clouds are being disrupted by the harsh environment created by the newly formed stars — both their intense radiation and the effects of supernova explosions — while the carbon glow is tracing fresh cold gas that is being accreted from the intergalactic medium.

By combining the new ALMA observations with computer simulations, it has been possible to understand in detail key processes occurring within the first galaxies. The effects of the radiation from stars, the survival of molecular clouds, the escape of ionising radiation and the complex structure of the interstellar medium can now be calculated and compared with observation. BDF 3299 is likely to be a typical example of the galaxies responsible for reionisation.

“We have been trying to understand the interstellar medium and the formation of the reionisation sources for many years. Finally to be able to test predictions and hypotheses on real data from ALMA is an exciting moment and opens up a new set of questions. This type of observation will clarify many of the thorny problems we have with the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe,” said co-author Andrea Ferrara, from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy.

“This study would have simply been impossible without ALMA, as no other instrument could reach the sensitivity and spatial resolution required,” said Maiolino. “Although this is one of the deepest ALMA observations so far it is still far from achieving its ultimate capabilities. In future ALMA will image the fine structure of primordial galaxies and trace in detail the build-up of the very first galaxies.”

The results are reported in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

R. Maiolino et al., “The assembly of “normal” galaxies at z∼7 probed by ALMA,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2015). 

Adapted from an ESO press release

An international team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge have detected the most distant clouds of star-forming gas yet found in normal galaxies in the early Universe – less than one billion years after the Big Bang. The new observations will allow astronomers to start to see how the first galaxies were built up and how they cleared the cosmic fog during the era of reionisation. This is the first time that such galaxies have been seen as more than just faint blobs.

For the first time we can observe and disentangle the different components contributing to the earliest phases of galaxy formationRoberto MaiolinoESO/R. MaiolinoThe central object is a very distant galaxy, labelled BDF 3299. The bright red cloud just to the lower left is the ALMA detection of a vast cloud of material that is in the process of assembling the very young galaxy

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesRelated Links: Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)

Quantum of solace – information can be rescued from a black hole

23 July 2015 - 9:28am

The weirdness of quantum teleportation offers a solution for getting information out of a black hole, should you have dropped something in there

$100m project uses world’s best radio telescopes to find aliens

23 July 2015 - 9:26am

A Russian billionaire has teamed up with a host of famous names, including Stephen Hawking, to listen for aliens in the million nearest star systems

Vibrating stars could reveal elusive ripples in space-time

23 July 2015 - 9:26am
Stars vibrate like musical instruments, a property that tells us about their insides – and that could reveal gigantic gravitational waves

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets a $100-million boost

23 July 2015 - 9:24am

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets a $100-million boost

Nature 523, 7561 (2015).

Author: Zeeya Merali

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announces most comprehensive hunt for alien life.

Vibrant Pluto stuns scientists

23 July 2015 - 9:24am

Vibrant Pluto stuns scientists

Nature 523, 7561 (2015).

Author: Alexandra Witze

Mission seeking clues to early Solar System finds a world made anew.

Astronomy: Total eclipse of rare twin stars

23 July 2015 - 9:22am

Astronomy: Total eclipse of rare twin stars

Nature 523, 7561 (2015). doi:10.1038/523384d

Amateur and professional astronomers have spotted a rare pair of stars in which one completely eclipses the other as they orbit each other.A team led by Heather Campbell at the University of Cambridge, UK, analysed data from the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite and

More mountains found in Pluto heart

23 July 2015 - 9:21am

The latest images from Nasa's New Horizons probe reveal another mountain range on Pluto.

Philae may have moved – and Rosetta will start to look south

22 July 2015 - 9:09am

Philae has stopped phoning home and its parents are worried. Meanwhile, communication is getting more complicated as the Rosetta orbiter moves on to the comet's south

Philae Comet lander falls silent

21 July 2015 - 9:05am

The Philae comet lander has fallen silent, according to scientists working on the European Rosetta mission.

Preparing to build ESA's Jupiter mission

20 July 2015 - 3:31pm

Airbus Defence & Space in France has been selected as the prime industrial contractor for ESA's JUICE mission to Jupiter and its icy moons.

NASA’s New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

20 July 2015 - 3:30pm
In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes.