Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Candidate Comet Landing Sites Identified

26 August 2014 - 3:57pm
The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission has chosen five candidate landing sites on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for its Philae lander. Philae's descent to the comet's nucleus, scheduled for this November, will be the first such landing ever attempted.

XMM-Newton Announcement of Opportunity (AO-14)

26 August 2014 - 10:57am
Proposals are solicited for observations with XMM-Newton in response to the fourteenth Announcement of Opportunity, AO-14, issued 26 August 2014. This AO covers the period May 2015 to April 2016 and is open to proposers from all over the world.

New Horizons Crosses the Orbit of Neptune

25 August 2014 - 7:05pm
NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has traversed the orbit of Neptune. This is its last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015.

VIDEO: Aurora Borealis filmed from space

25 August 2014 - 5:24pm
The European Space Agency releases time-lapse footage of the Aurora Borealis - better known as the Northern Lights - filmed from the International Space Station.

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Crosses Neptune Orbit En Route to Historic Pluto Encounter

25 August 2014 - 5:00pm
NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has traversed the orbit of Neptune. This is its last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Potential comet landing sites chosen

25 August 2014 - 3:41pm
Europe's Rosetta mission, which aims to put a robot on a comet in November, has identified five potential sites for the touchdown.

Rosetta:Rosetta: Landing site search narrows

25 August 2014 - 2:00pm
Using detailed information collected by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft during its first two weeks at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, five locations have been identified as candidate sites to set down the Philae lander in November – the first time a landing on a comet has ever been attempted.

Hints of elusive early stars found

21 August 2014 - 7:33pm
Astronomers may have discovered the chemical signature of one of the Universe's earliest stars.

Earliest stars lived short, fiery lives

21 August 2014 - 7:00pm
The chemical fingerprint of an ancient star suggests its predecessors were more massive than thought, ending up as huge supernovae

Rosetta's 10-billion-tonne comet

21 August 2014 - 3:06pm
Scientists determine the comet being followed by Europe's Rosetta spacecraft to have a mass of 10 billion tonnes.

Nearby galaxy may be victim of dark matter hit-and-run

20 August 2014 - 3:17pm
A massive hole in a small spiral galaxy may have been punched by a huge "subhalo" of dark matter – and the same thing may have happened to the Milky Way

A Spectacular Landscape of Star Formation

20 August 2014 - 11:00am
This image, captured by the Wide Field Imager at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows two dramatic star formation regions in the southern Milky Way. The first is of these, on the left, is dominated by the star cluster NGC 3603, located 20 000 light-years away, in the Carina–Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The second object, on the right, is a collection of glowing gas clouds known as NGC 3576 that lies only about half as far from Earth.

Astronomy: Dusty visitors from interstellar space

20 August 2014 - 1:00am

Astronomy: Dusty visitors from interstellar space

Nature 512, 7514 (2014). doi:10.1038/512235b

Seven particles captured by NASA's Stardust spacecraft may be the first sample of dust from beyond the Solar System that has been brought back to Earth.Andrew Westphal at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues — with the help of 30,714 citizen scientists

Astronomy: Comets forge organic molecules

20 August 2014 - 1:00am

Astronomy: Comets forge organic molecules

Nature 512, 7514 (2014). doi:10.1038/512234d

Astronomers have captured three-dimensional images of organic compounds streaming from two comets.Comets contain some of the oldest materials in the Solar System. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, Martin Cordiner of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and

Planetary science: Second rock from the Sun

20 August 2014 - 1:00am

Planetary science: Second rock from the Sun

Nature 512, 7514 (2014). doi:10.1038/512252a

Author: Andrew P. Ingersoll

Andrew P. Ingersoll relishes a study of scientific discoveries on hot, toxic Venus.

Just how rare is intelligent life in the universe?

19 August 2014 - 7:00pm
Although intelligent life may exist on other planets, The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf argues that Earth will still be special after all

NASA's RXTE Satellite Decodes the Rhythm of an Unusual Black Hole

18 August 2014 - 5:00pm
Astronomers have uncovered rhythmic pulsations from a rare type of black hole 12 million light-years away by sifting through archival data from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite.

Exoplanet Measured with Remarkable Precision

18 August 2014 - 4:51pm
Astronomers are not only discovering planets around distant suns, they are also starting to measure those worlds with astonishing precision. The diameter of a super-Earth named "Kepler 93 b" is now known to within an accuracy of 1%.

A 400-solar-mass black hole in the galaxy M82

17 August 2014 - 1:00am

A 400-solar-mass black hole in the galaxy M82

Nature 513, 7516 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13710

Authors: Dheeraj R. Pasham, Tod E. Strohmayer & Richard F. Mushotzky

M82 X-1, the brightest X-ray source in the galaxy M82, has been thought to be an intermediate-mass black hole (100 to 10,000 solar masses) because of its extremely high luminosity and variability characteristics, although some models suggest that its mass may be only about 20 solar masses. The previous mass estimates were based on scaling relations that use low-frequency characteristic timescales which have large intrinsic uncertainties. For stellar-mass black holes, we know that the high-frequency quasi-periodic oscillations (100–450 hertz) in the X-ray emission that occur in a 3:2 frequency ratio are stable and scale in frequency inversely with black hole mass with a reasonably small dispersion. The discovery of such stable oscillations thus potentially offers an alternative and less ambiguous means of mass determination for intermediate-mass black holes, but has hitherto not been realized. Here we report stable, twin-peak (3:2 frequency ratio) X-ray quasi-periodic oscillations from M82 X-1 at frequencies of 3.32 ± 0.06 hertz and 5.07 ± 0.06 hertz. Assuming that we can extrapolate the inverse-mass scaling that holds for stellar-mass black holes, we estimate the black hole mass of M82 X-1 to be 428 ± 105 solar masses. In addition, we can estimate the mass using the relativistic precession model, from which we get a value of 415 ± 63 solar masses.

Earth's early life endured long asteroid bombardment

15 August 2014 - 1:00pm
Massive asteroids may have pounded Earth for a billion years longer than we thought – with early life forms suffering periodic melting of the surface