Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Seeking comet splatter on Mercury

5 May 2015 - 11:25am

UK scientists hunt for comet remains on Mercury

NASA's NuSTAR Captures Possible 'Screams' from Zombie Stars

30 April 2015 - 9:41am
Peering into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted a mysterious glow of high-energy X-rays that, according to scientists, could be the "howls" of dead stars as they feed on stellar companions.

NASA’s New Horizons Detects Surface Features, Possible Polar Cap on Pluto

30 April 2015 - 9:41am
For the first time, images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are revealing bright and dark regions on the surface of faraway Pluto – the primary target of the New Horizons close flyby in mid-July.

The human universe: Exploring our place in space

30 April 2015 - 9:39am
We’re masters of Earth, but how do we measure up against the cosmos? From colonising stars to destroying the universe, we explore humans' role beyond our world

Milky Way's quiet life leaves it with no dark matter skeleton

30 April 2015 - 9:38am

Our galaxy has only ever merged with small galaxies, not large ones. This low-key history has left it bereft of dark matter from outside

Extended hard-X-ray emission in the inner few parsecs of the Galaxy

30 April 2015 - 9:36am

Extended hard-X-ray emission in the inner few parsecs of the Galaxy

Nature 520, 7549 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature14353

Authors: Kerstin Perez, Charles J. Hailey, Franz E. Bauer, Roman A. Krivonos, Kaya Mori, Frederick K. Baganoff, Nicolas M. Barrière, Steven E. Boggs, Finn E. Christensen, William W. Craig, Brian W. Grefenstette, Jonathan E. Grindlay, Fiona A. Harrison, Jaesub Hong, Kristin K. Madsen, Melania Nynka, Daniel Stern, John A. Tomsick, Daniel R. Wik, Shuo Zhang, William W. Zhang & Andreas Zoglauer

The Galactic Centre hosts a puzzling stellar population in its inner few parsecs, with a high abundance of surprisingly young, relatively massive stars bound within the deep potential well of the central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A* (ref. 1). Previous studies suggest that the population of objects emitting soft X-rays (less than 10 kiloelectronvolts) within the surrounding hundreds of parsecs, as well as the population responsible for unresolved X-ray emission extending along the Galactic plane, is dominated by accreting white dwarf systems. Observations of diffuse hard-X-ray (more than 10 kiloelectronvolts) emission in the inner 10 parsecs, however, have been hampered by the limited spatial resolution of previous instruments. Here we report the presence of a distinct hard-X-ray component within the central 4 × 8 parsecs, as revealed by subarcminute-resolution images in the 20–40 kiloelectronvolt range. This emission is more sharply peaked towards the Galactic Centre than is the surface brightness of the soft-X-ray population. This could indicate a significantly more massive population of accreting white dwarfs, large populations of low-mass X-ray binaries or millisecond pulsars, or particle outflows interacting with the surrounding radiation field, dense molecular material or magnetic fields. However, all these interpretations pose significant challenges to our understanding of stellar evolution, binary formation, and cosmic-ray production in the Galactic Centre.

Astronomy: Light direct from an alien world

30 April 2015 - 9:29am

Astronomy: Light direct from an alien world

Nature 520, 7549 (2015). doi:10.1038/520588b

Astronomers have spotted light reflected off a planet orbiting a distant sun, by teasing it out from the background starlight. The discovery allows direct calculations of the mass and other properties of the exoplanet, rather than inferring them using other methods.Jorge Martins of the

UK to be giant telescope's HQ

30 April 2015 - 9:20am

The permanent headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array - the world's biggest radio telescope - will be based in Britain.

Pluto may have ice cap at pole

30 April 2015 - 9:19am

Pluto may have a polar cap of nitrogen ices. This is the tantalising prospect revealed in the latest images to come down from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Messenger heads for crash on Mercury

30 April 2015 - 9:19am

After a decade in space and four years in orbit, Nasa's Messenger spacecraft will end its mission on Thursday by crashing into the surface of Mercury.

That's no moon! Spacecraft mistaken for new natural satellite

28 April 2015 - 10:07am

For 13 hours today, astronomers thought Earth had gained a new, temporary moon – but it turned out to be the Gaia space telescope

Happy birthday Hubble, 25 today! Look back to where it all began

27 April 2015 - 9:34am

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced some fabulous images over the past 25 years – and this is the mirror that made them all possible (eventually)

Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates 25 Years of Unveiling the Universe

24 April 2015 - 9:57am

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NASA and ESA are celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope's silver anniversary of 25 years in space by unveiling some of nature's own fireworks a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides inside a vibrant stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. The comparatively young, 2-million-year-old star cluster contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, and most massive stars. The largest stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds that etch away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud. This creates a fantasy celestial landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys.

Celestial fireworks celebrate Hubble's 25th anniversary [heic1509]

24 April 2015 - 9:56am

The glittering tapestry of young stars flaring to life in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image aptly resembles an exploding shell in a fireworks display. This vibrant image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 has been released to celebrate Hubble's 25th year in orbit and a quarter of a century of new discoveries, stunning images and outstanding science.

NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary

24 April 2015 - 9:55am
The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, released to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.

Biggest dark matter detector lies in wait for antisocial WIMPs

24 April 2015 - 9:54am

The world's most sensitive dark matter detector is poised to join the hunt for WIMPs, the world's most elusive particles

VIDEO: How Hubble opened up the Universe

24 April 2015 - 9:44am

As Nasa prepares to unveil a new image to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, the BBC's Jane McCubbin reports on how it has enhanced our appreciation of the Universe.

Hubble issues 25th birthday image

24 April 2015 - 9:44am

The Hubble Space Telescope celebrates its silver anniversary with a picture featuring a spectacular vista of young stars blazing through a dense cloud of gas and dust.

VIDEO: Hubble Telescope's 25 years in images

24 April 2015 - 9:43am

As the Hubble Telescope celebrates its 25th anniversary, BBC News looks back at some of its greatest moments - and images.

First Detection of Reflected Visible Light from 51 Pegasi b

23 April 2015 - 10:01am
Astronomers using the HARPS planet-hunting machine at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile have made the first-ever spectroscopic detection of visible light reflected off an exoplanet. These observations also revealed new properties of this famous object, the first exoplanet ever discovered around a normal star: 51 Pegasi b. The result promises an exciting future for this technique, particularly with the advent of next generation instruments, such as ESPRESSO, on the VLT, and future telescopes, such as the E-ELT.