Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Next step towards a gravitational-wave observatory in space

26 October 2016 - 7:58am

Today, ESA has invited European scientists to propose concepts for the third large mission in its science programme, to study the gravitational Universe.

Saturn's weird hexagon changes colour

26 October 2016 - 7:57am

The mysterious hexagon at Saturn's northern pole has changed colour from blue to gold, scientists have said.

NASA, Citizen Scientists Discover Potential New Hunting Ground for Exoplanets

24 October 2016 - 8:17am
Via a NASA-led citizen science project, eight people with no formal training in astrophysics helped discover what could be a fruitful new place to search for planets outside our solar system – a large disk of gas and dust encircling a star known as a circumstellar disk.

Double star may light up the sky as rare red nova in six years

24 October 2016 - 8:16am

New observations of a binary star in the constellation Cygnus suggest they may be in a death spiral and will soon collide and explode

The contrivance of Neptune. (arXiv:1610.06424v2 [physics.hist-ph] UPDATED)

21 October 2016 - 9:04am

Celebrating 170th anniversary of the discovery of Neptune, I review the story of the discovery that startled the world. The story is an interplay of scientific triumph and human weakness and an example of how science works in a socio-political context.

Astronomy: Two stars have three disks

21 October 2016 - 8:52am
Young stars are surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust, from which planets are born — but astronomers have discovered that one pair of young stars orbiting around each other has three disks, not just two.Christian Brinch at the University of Copenhagen

Astrobiology: Martian dance of fiction and fact

21 October 2016 - 8:51am

Astrobiology: Martian dance of fiction and fact

Nature 538, 7625 (2016). doi:10.1038/538317e

Author: Jonathan Cowie

In marking the H. G. Wells anniversary, you highlight what Carl Sagan dubbed the “dance” between science fiction and science fact (see www.nature.com/scifispecial).Wells's The War of the Worlds saw the Martian invasion stopped in its tracks by Earth pathogens (S. J.

Ultraluminous X-ray bursts in two ultracompact companions to nearby elliptical galaxies

21 October 2016 - 8:50am

Ultraluminous X-ray bursts in two ultracompact companions to nearby elliptical galaxies

Nature 538, 7625 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature19822

Authors: Jimmy A. Irwin, W. Peter Maksym, Gregory R. Sivakoff, Aaron J. Romanowsky, Dacheng Lin, Tyler Speegle, Ian Prado, David Mildebrath, Jay Strader, Jifeng Liu & Jon M. Miller

A flaring X-ray source was found near the galaxy NGC 4697 (ref. 1). Two brief flares were seen, separated by four years. During each flare, the flux increased by a factor of 90 on a timescale of about one minute. There is no associated optical source at the position of the flares, but if the source was at the distance of NGC 4697, then the luminosities of the flares were greater than 1039 erg per second. Here we report the results of a search of archival X-ray data for 70 nearby galaxies looking for similar flares. We found two ultraluminous flaring sources in globular clusters or ultracompact dwarf companions of parent elliptical galaxies. One source flared once to a peak luminosity of 9 × 1040 erg per second; the other flared five times to 1040 erg per second. The rise times of all of the flares were less than one minute, and the flares then decayed over about an hour. When not flaring, the sources appear to be normal accreting neutron-star or black-hole X-ray binaries, but they are located in old stellar populations, unlike the magnetars, anomalous X-ray pulsars or soft γ repeaters that have repetitive flares of similar luminosities.

Astrophysics: Unexpected X-ray flares

21 October 2016 - 8:50am

Astrophysics: Unexpected X-ray flares

Nature 538, 7625 (2016). doi:10.1038/538321a

Authors: Sergio Campana

Two sources of highly energetic flares have been discovered in archival X-ray data of 70 nearby galaxies. These flares have an undetermined origin and might represent previously unknown astrophysical phenomena. See Letter p.356

Astronomy: Two stars have three disks

21 October 2016 - 8:50am

Astronomy: Two stars have three disks

Nature 538, 7625 (2016). doi:10.1038/538292b

Young stars are surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust, from which planets are born — but astronomers have discovered that one pair of young stars orbiting around each other has three disks, not just two.Christian Brinch at the University of Copenhagen

Highest Resolution Image of Eta Carinae

21 October 2016 - 8:49am
An international team of astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer to image the Eta Carinae star system in the greatest detail ever achieved. They found new and unexpected structures within the binary system, including in the area between the two stars where extremely high velocity stellar winds are colliding. These new insights into this enigmatic star system could lead to a better understanding of the evolution of very massive stars.

Media Invited to Rare View of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Mirrors

21 October 2016 - 8:49am
Media are invited to join NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Wednesday, Nov. 2, for an update about what’s in store for NASA’s next great observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, and a rare glimpse of the telescope’s mirrors.

Pluto may sport clouds of poisonous acid and flammable gases

21 October 2016 - 8:48am

Wispy features spotted just above the dwarf planet’s surface might be clouds – and they seem to be made of nasty stuff

Mystery cosmic objects light up in X-ray then go dim in an hour

21 October 2016 - 8:47am

Digging through old observations of galaxies, astronomers have discovered X-ray flares from objects they can’t yet identify

Uranus might have two dark moons we’ve never seen before

21 October 2016 - 8:47am
Newly detected wavy patterns in two of the planet’s rings suggest they are being warped by two small, unseen satellites

Toddler stars’ baby fat kicks out almost all their exoplanets

19 October 2016 - 8:19am

The Kepler space telescope has found more singleton planets than expected. A new explanation blames young stars for tossing planets out in a tantrum

Space is full of gigantic holes that are bigger than we expected

19 October 2016 - 8:18am

The universe is full of eerie, empty voids that are bigger than we ever expected – and could help unravel the cosmos's deepest mysteries

What is ExoMars and what is it doing?

19 October 2016 - 8:16am

BBC science reporter Victoria Gill explains what the European mission to Mars is hoping to find out.

ExoMars spacecraft splits in two to explore Mars surface and air

18 October 2016 - 8:30am

It’s crunch time for the ExoMars mission, as its orbiter and lander spring into action ahead of Wednesday’s landing

Uranus might have two dark moons we’ve never seen before

17 October 2016 - 9:11am

Newly detected wavy patterns in two of the planet’s rings suggest they are being warped by two small, unseen satellites