Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Prehistoric tombs may have doubled as star-gazing observatories

30 June 2016 - 9:16am

Ancient corridor-like “passage graves” could have helped early tribes see stars as they first rise above the horizon by blocking out the ambient light

Hubble nets a cosmic tadpole [heic1612]

29 June 2016 - 9:26am

This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a cosmic tadpole, with its bright head and elongated tail, wriggling through the inky black pool of space. Tadpole galaxies are rare and difficult to find in the local Universe. This striking example, named LEDA 36252, was explored as part of a Hubble study into their mysterious properties – with interesting results.

Hubble Reveals Stellar Fireworks in 'Skyrocket' Galaxy

29 June 2016 - 9:26am

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As we celebrate the Fourth of July by watching dazzling fireworks shows, another kind of fireworks display is taking place in a small, nearby galaxy.

Strange ‘dark hydrogen’ may exist deep inside giant gas planets

29 June 2016 - 9:25am

Experiments on Earth reveal a new state of hydrogen that doesn’t reflect or absorb light – which could explain how planets like Jupiter cooled after formation

LISA Pathfinder completes first operations phase

27 June 2016 - 9:27am

On Saturday 25 June, the LISA Technology Package (LTP) – a European payload on ESA's LISA Pathfinder – completes its nominal operations phase, passing the baton to the Disturbance Reduction System, an additional experiment provided by NASA. This won't be the last time the European experiment is run – the recently approved mission extension will see the LTP back in action for seven months starting in November this year.

Jupiter Awaits Arrival of Juno

27 June 2016 - 9:24am
In preparation for the imminent arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft, astronomers have used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to obtain spectacular new infrared images of Jupiter. They are part of a campaign to create high-resolution maps of the giant planet. These observations will inform the work to be undertaken by Juno over the coming months, helping astronomers to better understand the gas giant ahead of Juno’s close encounter.

NASA approves five more years for Hubble Space Telescope

27 June 2016 - 9:22am

Extra funds for the world’s most famous observatory mean it will be able to work in tandem with its upcoming successor, the James Webb Space Telescope

Hubble Confirms New Dark Spot on Neptune

24 June 2016 - 9:05am

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Pancake-shaped clouds not only appear in the children's book "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," but also 3 billion miles away on the gaseous planet Neptune. When they appeared in July 2015, witnessed by amateur astronomers and the largest telescopes, scientists suspected that these clouds were bright companions to an unseen, dark vortex. The dark vortex is a high-pressure system where the flow of ambient air is perturbed and diverted upward over the vortex. This forms huge, lens-shaped clouds, that resemble clouds that sometimes form over mountains on Earth.

NASA Extends Hubble Space Telescope Science Operations Contract

24 June 2016 - 8:58am
NASA is contractually extending science operations for its Hubble Space Telescope an additional five years. The agency awarded a sole source contract extension Thursday to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy for continued Hubble science operations support at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

I smelled comet 67P’s deadly pong and lived to tell the tale

24 June 2016 - 8:58am

Researchers with ESA's Rosetta mission have commissioned a perfume that mimics the odour of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Jacob Aron shares his first sniff

Hubble spots a new long-lived storm raging on Neptune

24 June 2016 - 8:56am

Neptune is known for its Great Dark Spot, but a new blemish appeared last summer and has been roiling ever since

LIGO detects whispers of another black-hole merger

23 June 2016 - 9:23am

LIGO detects whispers of another black-hole merger

Nature 534, 7608 (2016).

Author: Davide Castelvecchi

After historic first discovery last September, twin observatories detected gravitational waves again on Boxing Day.

The first gravitational-wave source from the isolated evolution of two stars in the 40–100 solar mass range

23 June 2016 - 9:22am

The first gravitational-wave source from the isolated evolution of two stars in the 40–100 solar mass range

Nature 534, 7608 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature18322

Authors: Krzysztof Belczynski, Daniel E. Holz, Tomasz Bulik & Richard O’Shaughnessy

The merger of two massive (about 30 solar masses) black holes has been detected in gravitational waves. This discovery validates recent predictions that massive binary black holes would constitute the first detection. Previous calculations, however, have not sampled the relevant binary-black-hole progenitors—massive, low-metallicity binary stars—with sufficient accuracy nor included sufficiently realistic physics to enable robust predictions to better than several orders of magnitude. Here we report high-precision numerical simulations of the formation of binary black holes via the evolution of isolated binary stars, providing a framework within which to interpret the first gravitational-wave source, GW150914, and to predict the properties of subsequent binary-black-hole gravitational-wave events. Our models imply that these events form in an environment in which the metallicity is less than ten per cent of solar metallicity, and involve stars with initial masses of 40–100 solar masses that interact through mass transfer and a common-envelope phase. These progenitor stars probably formed either about 2 billion years or, with a smaller probability, 11 billion years after the Big Bang. Most binary black holes form without supernova explosions, and their spins are nearly unchanged since birth, but do not have to be parallel. The classical field formation of binary black holes we propose, with low natal kicks (the velocity of the black hole at birth) and restricted common-envelope evolution, produces approximately 40 times more binary-black-holes mergers than do dynamical formation channels involving globular clusters; our predicted detection rate of these mergers is comparable to that from homogeneous evolution channels. Our calculations predict detections of about 1,000 black-hole mergers per year with total masses of 20–80 solar masses once second-generation ground-based gravitational-wave observatories reach full sensitivity.

Astrophysics: Recipe for a black-hole merger

23 June 2016 - 9:21am

Astrophysics: Recipe for a black-hole merger

Nature 534, 7608 (2016). doi:10.1038/534478a

Authors: J. J. Eldridge

The detection of a gravitational wave was a historic event that heralded a new phase of astronomy. A numerical model of the Universe now allows researchers to tell the story of the black-hole system that caused the wave. See Letter p.512

Giant SKA telescope rattles South African community

23 June 2016 - 9:21am

Giant SKA telescope rattles South African community

Nature 534, 7608 (2016).

Author: Sarah Wild

Struggle in Northern Cape province highlights a balancing act that scientists leading gigantic projects face.

Astronomy: Early galaxy has wisps of oxygen

23 June 2016 - 9:21am

Astronomy: Early galaxy has wisps of oxygen

Nature 534, 7608 (2016). doi:10.1038/534438c

Astronomers have detected oxygen in a 13-billion-year-old galaxy — the first time that the gas has been found at such an early stage of the Universe.A team led by Akio Inoue at Osaka Sangyo University in Daito, Japan, used the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter

Successful First Observations of Galactic Centre with GRAVITY

23 June 2016 - 9:15am
A European team of astronomers have used the new GRAVITY instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope to obtain exciting observations of the centre of the Milky Way by combining light from all four of the 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes for the first time. These results provide a taste of the groundbreaking science that GRAVITY will produce as it probes the extremely strong gravitational fields close to the central supermassive black hole and tests Einstein’s general relativity.

Pluto must have liquid ocean or it’d look like an overripe peach

23 June 2016 - 9:08am

If Pluto’s inner sea froze recently, we should see ridges popping up in the dwarf planet's outer shell. Since we don’t, it's probably still liquid

LIGO black hole pair may be stars that lived and died together

23 June 2016 - 9:07am

We’ve now seen enough gravitation waves to start wondering about the formation of the binary black holes that cause the signals when they spiral in and collide

Find exomoons by watching how they warp their planet’s light

22 June 2016 - 8:47am

A new way of detecting exomoons circling young giant planets could be possible with the next generation of telescopes