Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

ESO Observations Show First Interstellar Asteroid is Like Nothing Seen Before

22 November 2017 - 9:17am
For the first time ever astronomers have studied an asteroid that has entered the Solar System from interstellar space. Observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that this unique object was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. It appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object. The new results appear in the journal Nature on 20 November 2017.

Black holes that shred stars burp out cosmic rays and neutrinos

20 November 2017 - 9:02am

The highest energy cosmic rays and neutrinos that rain down on Earth may come from white dwarf stars being devoured by black holes

We may know why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is red instead of white

17 November 2017 - 10:01am

The gases in Jupiter's atmosphere should form white clouds, so why do they look red? Two teams have found different recipes for the red in the Great Red Spot

We just sent a message to try to talk to aliens on another world

17 November 2017 - 9:12am

We've just sent a message to a nearby star to see if there's any life there - and we'll only have to wait 25 years for a reply

Dark matter may be the source of antimatter streaming past Earth

17 November 2017 - 9:11am

Two nearby powerful pulsars aren’t responsible for the stream of antimatter positrons snaking past Earth, so dark matter might be behind it after all

NASA Detects Solar Flare Pulses at Sun and Earth

17 November 2017 - 9:10am
Portal origin URL: NASA Detects Solar Flare Pulses at Sun and EarthPortal origin nid: 413448Published: Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 14:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Two recent studies show how solar flares exhibit pulses or oscillations in the amount of energy being sent out. Such research provides new insights on the origins of these massive solar flares and the space weather they produce. This is key information as humans and robotic missions venture out into the solar system, farther and farther from Earth.Portal image: SDO observations of 2011 X-class flareScience Categories: Sun

NASA Selects Instrument for Future International Mission to Martian Moons

17 November 2017 - 9:09am
NASA has selected a science instrument for an upcoming Japan-led sample return mission to the moons of Mars planned for launch in 2024.

'Routine' detection of space ripples

17 November 2017 - 9:08am

Laser labs sense black holes merging at a distance of about a billion light-years from Earth.

Interstellar asteroid is given a name

17 November 2017 - 9:07am

The first known asteroid to visit our Solar System from interstellar space has been given a name.

Haze heats Pluto’s atmosphere yet explains its cold temperature

16 November 2017 - 9:44am

Haze heats Pluto’s atmosphere yet explains its cold temperature

Nature 551, 7680 (2017). doi:10.1038/nature24465

Authors: Xi Zhang, Darrell F. Strobel & Hiroshi Imanaka

Pluto’s atmosphere is cold and hazy. Recent observations have shown it to be much colder than predicted theoretically, suggesting an unknown cooling mechanism. Atmospheric gas molecules, particularly water vapour, have been proposed as a coolant; however, because Pluto’s thermal structure is expected to be in radiative–conductive equilibrium, the required water vapour would need to be supersaturated by many orders of magnitude under thermodynamic equilibrium conditions. Here we report that atmospheric hazes, rather than gases, can explain Pluto’s temperature profile. We find that haze particles have substantially larger solar heating and thermal cooling rates than gas molecules, dominating the atmospheric radiative balance from the ground to an altitude of 700 kilometres, above which heat conduction maintains an isothermal atmosphere. We conclude that Pluto’s atmosphere is unique among Solar System planetary atmospheres, as its radiative energy equilibrium is controlled primarily by haze particles instead of gas molecules. We predict that Pluto is therefore several orders of magnitude brighter at mid-infrared wavelengths than previously thought—a brightness that could be detected by future telescopes.

Planetary science: Haze cools Pluto's atmosphere

16 November 2017 - 9:44am

Planetary science: Haze cools Pluto's atmosphere

Nature 551, 7680 (2017). doi:10.1038/551302a

Authors: Robert A. West

Modelling suggests that Pluto's atmospheric temperature is regulated by haze, unlike the other planetary bodies in the Solar System. The finding has implications for our understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres. See Letter p.352

We found our galactic twin 180 million light years away

16 November 2017 - 9:43am

Astronomers have spotted a trio of galaxies that look remarkably like the giant spiral of the Milky Way and its two brightest companions, the Magellanic Clouds

We’ve just found a nearby exoplanet that could be right for life

16 November 2017 - 9:42am

A newly discovered nearby world is probably close in size and temperature to Earth. This exoplanet might be able to host life because of its unusually calm star

Free-fall experiment could test if gravity is a quantum force

16 November 2017 - 9:42am

The effort to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics always hits one snag: gravity. An experiment could finally tell us if it is a quantum force

A layer of haze keeps Pluto’s atmosphere extremely cold

16 November 2017 - 9:41am

Pluto is far from the sun, so astronomers expect its atmosphere to be cold, but it's colder than predicted. Now we know that soot sends the sun’s heat back into space

Closest Temperate World Orbiting Quiet Star Discovered

16 November 2017 - 9:39am
A temperate Earth-sized planet has been discovered only 11 light-years from the Solar System by a team using ESO’s unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument. The new world has the designation Ross 128 b and is now the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after Proxima b. It is also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life. Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet's atmosphere.

How do you find a star cluster? Easy, simply count the stars

16 November 2017 - 9:37am

It's the perfect meeting of old and new. Astronomers have combined the latest data from ESA's Gaia mission with a simple analysis technique from the 18th century to discover a massive star cluster that had previously escaped detection. Now, subsequent investigations are helping reveal the star-forming history of our Galaxy, the Milky Way.

Nearby planet is prime target in search for life

16 November 2017 - 9:36am

Astronomers have found a cool, Earth-sized planet that's relatively close to our Solar System.

New NASA Mission Concept Aimed at Studying Why Planets Lose their Atmospheres

15 November 2017 - 9:48am
Portal origin URL: New NASA Mission Concept Aimed at Studying Why Planets Lose their AtmospheresPortal origin nid: 413250Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 10:46Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: A team of NASA scientists want to use Earth as a laboratory to understand how planets lose their atmospheres and has proposed a mission that the agency recently selected as one of five for further consideration as a possible NASA Explorer mission.Portal image: This artist’s rendition shows MEME-X’s dual spacecraft as they observe the aurora from an altitude like that of the ISS.Science Categories: Sun

Webb's first space targets chosen

14 November 2017 - 9:14am

Gas giant Jupiter, organic molecules in star-forming clouds and baby galaxies in the distant Universe are among the first targets for which data will be immediately available from the James Webb Space Telescope once it begins casting its powerful gaze on the Universe in 2019.