Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

First Observations from SEPIA

6 November 2015 - 10:23am
A new instrument attached to the 12-metre Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope at 5000 metres above sea level in the Chilean Andes is opening up a previously unexplored window on the Universe. The Swedish–ESO PI receiver for APEX (SEPIA) will detect the faint signals from water and other molecules within the Milky Way, other nearby galaxies and the early Universe.

VIDEO: Sun comes alive in HD images

6 November 2015 - 10:22am

Remarkable high-definition images of the sun taken by Nasa's space-based telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) have been released.

Mars air 'eroded by Sun activity'

6 November 2015 - 10:21am

Nasa's Maven satellite records how the upper atmosphere at Mars is being removed through its interactions with the Sun.

NASA debates where to land on Mars – but are we ready to go?

4 November 2015 - 9:06am

Last week the space agency held its first meeting about where to land humans on Mars, but such a mission still has decades of technological hurdles to overcome

Molten metal storms rage on orphan planet that lost its star

3 November 2015 - 9:24am

Variations in the brightness of a planet drifting alone in space could come from clouds of molten metal passing in and out of view as it spins

Mars is ripping its beanbag moon Phobos apart

2 November 2015 - 9:45am

The Red Planet's gravity is slowly shredding its largest moon, which is already a rubble pile with a thin shell of dust

First images of Enceladus’s icy breath from closest ever fly-by

2 November 2015 - 9:45am

NASA's Cassini probe made the deepest dive ever through the spray erupting from Saturn's icy moon, and took some spectacular photos in the process

Worlds within Worlds: Hubble Peels … f a Warm Neptune

2 November 2015 - 9:44am
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered an immense cloud of hydrogen evaporating from a Neptune-sized planet named GJ 436b. The planet’s atmosphere is evaporating because of extreme irradiation from its parent star.

VIDEO: Nasa tracking Asteroid TB145

2 November 2015 - 9:41am

An asteroid called TB145 will pass within a few hundred thousand kilometres of the earth.

Salt flats on Europa mean moon’s ocean may come to surface

30 October 2015 - 8:52am

Jupiter's icy moon is a favourite of alien-hunters, thanks to its buried ocean. Now it seems the ocean could come to the surface – and it might be life-friendly

Bright light may not be dark matter’s smoking gun after all

30 October 2015 - 8:52am

Dwarf galaxy observations dash astronomers' hopes that the signal at the centre of the Milky Way was caused by dark matter particles colliding

Spirals in Dust Around Young Stars May Betray Presence of Massive Planets

30 October 2015 - 8:51am

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A team of astronomers is proposing that huge spiral patterns seen around some newborn stars, merely a few million years old (about one percent our sun's age), may be evidence for the presence of giant, unseen planets. This idea not only opens the door to a new method of planet detection, but also could offer a look into the early formative years of planet birth. Though astronomers have cataloged thousands of planets orbiting other stars, the very earliest stages of planet formation are elusive because nascent planets are born and embedded inside vast, pancake-shaped disks of dust and gas encircling newborn stars. The conclusion that planets may betray their presence by modifying circumstellar disks on large scales is based on detailed computer modeling of how gas-and-dust disks evolve around newborn stars.

First detection of molecular oxygen at a comet

29 October 2015 - 9:52am

ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has made the first in situ detection of oxygen molecules outgassing from a comet, a surprising observation that suggests they were incorporated into the comet during its formation.

VISTA Discovers New Component of Milky Way

29 October 2015 - 9:51am
Astronomers using the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory have discovered a previously unknown component of the Milky Way. By mapping out the locations of a class of stars that vary in brightness called Cepheids, a disc of young stars buried behind thick dust clouds in the central bulge has been found.

Exploding stars could be lit by hearts of dark matter

29 October 2015 - 9:50am

If supernovae were triggered by companion stars, then why are most of them missing in action? A new theory suggests dark matter lights the fuse instead

First Earth-mass planet around nearest star may be an illusion

29 October 2015 - 9:49am

Alpha Centauri Bb was announced in 2012 as the nearest exoplanet that could resemble Earth, but another team concludes it was probably a spurious signal

Cassini probe to dive deep through watery plume on Enceladus

29 October 2015 - 9:48am

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to make its deepest dive yet through the Saturn moon's plume, perhaps close enough to spot the ingredients for life

Abundant molecular oxygen in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

29 October 2015 - 9:46am

Abundant molecular oxygen in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Nature 526, 7575 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature15707

Authors: A. Bieler, K. Altwegg, H. Balsiger, A. Bar-Nun, J.-J. Berthelier, P. Bochsler, C. Briois, U. Calmonte, M. Combi, J. De Keyser, E. F. van Dishoeck, B. Fiethe, S. A. Fuselier, S. Gasc, T. I. Gombosi, K. C. Hansen, M. Hässig, A. Jäckel, E. Kopp, A. Korth, L. Le Roy, U. Mall, R. Maggiolo, B. Marty, O. Mousis, T. Owen, H. Rème, M. Rubin, T. Sémon, C.-Y. Tzou, J. H. Waite, C. Walsh & P. Wurz

The composition of the neutral gas comas of most comets is dominated by H2O, CO and CO2, typically comprising as much as 95 per cent of the total gas density. In addition, cometary comas have been found to contain a rich array of other molecules, including sulfuric compounds and complex hydrocarbons. Molecular oxygen (O2), however, despite its detection on other icy bodies such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, has remained undetected in cometary comas. Here we report in situ measurement of O2 in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, with local abundances ranging from one per cent to ten per cent relative to H2O and with a mean value of 3.80 ± 0.85 per cent. Our observations indicate that the O2/H2O ratio is isotropic in the coma and does not change systematically with heliocentric distance. This suggests that primordial O2 was incorporated into the nucleus during the comet’s formation, which is unexpected given the low upper limits from remote sensing observations. Current Solar System formation models do not predict conditions that would allow this to occur.

US astronomers stuck in grant-rejection cycle

29 October 2015 - 9:43am

US astronomers stuck in grant-rejection cycle

Nature 526, 7575 (2015).

Author: Chris Cesare

The plummeting success rates in grant applications in the last decade are linked to flat budgets and more resubmitted proposals.

Astronomy: Red-giant rogue in Andromeda

29 October 2015 - 9:42am

Astronomy: Red-giant rogue in Andromeda

Nature 526, 7575 (2015). doi:10.1038/526612c

Astronomers have spotted a giant 'runaway star' speeding through the Andromeda galaxy; the first of its kind seen outside the Milky Way.Whereas most stars flow together around the centre of their galaxy, some, known as runaways, travel at different directions and speeds to their