Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Inferno World with Titanium Skies

14 September 2017 - 9:50am
Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have detected titanium oxide in an exoplanet atmosphere for the first time. This discovery around the hot-Jupiter planet WASP-19b exploited the power of the FORS2 instrument. It provides unique information about the chemical composition and the temperature and pressure structure of the atmosphere of this unusual and very hot world. The results appear today in the journal Nature.

Cassini conducts last picture show

14 September 2017 - 9:49am

The Saturn probe takes some final images ahead of its mission-ending dive into the ringed planet.

Cassini’s 10 best pictures from its 13-year voyage around Saturn

13 September 2017 - 9:36am

On 15 September, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will crash into Saturn, ending its mission with a bang. New Scientist looks back at 10 of its best images

Our sun probably didn’t steal Planet Nine from outer space

12 September 2017 - 10:22am

If there is a Planet Nine lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system, it was probably born close to the sun rather than snatched up from afar

Slingshot around Titan is the beginning of the end for Cassini

12 September 2017 - 10:22am

The Cassini spacecraft is passing by Titan on its final nosedive into Saturn. Plenty has been revealed about Saturn’s largest moon on Cassini’s 20-year mission

Cassini: Saturn probe turns towards its death plunge

12 September 2017 - 10:21am

The veteran space probe puts itself on a path to destruction in Saturn's atmosphere on Friday.

Low-oxygen dwarf galaxy shows us how the early universe looked

11 September 2017 - 10:03am

A star factory with the lowest oxygen level ever seen in such a galaxy could help us understand how the elements were distributed after the big bang

New tools for exploring the surface of Mars: the Planetary SUrface Portal (PSUP) and the iMars webGIS

8 September 2017 - 10:00am

In past decades, spacecraft have sent back huge amounts of complex data about Mars, providing a wealth of information about the planet. More than ever, the scientific community needs a way to sift through, compare, and analyse these data, prompting the development of two new tools for exploring the surface of the Red Planet: the iMars webGIS and the Planetary SUrface Portal (PSUP).

Discrete and broadband electron acceleration in Jupiter’s powerful aurora

7 September 2017 - 9:14am

Discrete and broadband electron acceleration in Jupiter’s powerful aurora

Nature 549, 7670 (2017). doi:10.1038/nature23648

Authors: B. H. Mauk, D. K. Haggerty, C. Paranicas, G. Clark, P. Kollmann, A. M. Rymer, S. J. Bolton, S. M. Levin, A. Adriani, F. Allegrini, F. Bagenal, B. Bonfond, J. E. P. Connerney, G. R. Gladstone, W. S. Kurth, D. J. McComas & P. Valek

The most intense auroral emissions from Earth’s polar regions, called discrete for their sharply defined spatial configurations, are generated by a process involving coherent acceleration of electrons by slowly evolving, powerful electric fields directed along the magnetic field lines that connect Earth’s space environment to its polar regions. In contrast, Earth’s less intense auroras are generally caused by wave scattering of magnetically trapped populations of hot electrons (in the case of diffuse aurora) or by the turbulent or stochastic downward acceleration of electrons along magnetic field lines by waves during transitory periods (in the case of broadband or Alfvénic aurora). Jupiter’s relatively steady main aurora has a power density that is so much larger than Earth’s that it has been taken for granted that it must be generated primarily by the discrete auroral process. However, preliminary in situ measurements of Jupiter’s auroral regions yielded no evidence of such a process. Here we report observations of distinct, high-energy, downward, discrete electron acceleration in Jupiter’s auroral polar regions. We also infer upward magnetic-field-aligned electric potentials of up to 400 kiloelectronvolts, an order of magnitude larger than the largest potentials observed at Earth. Despite the magnitude of these upward electric potentials and the expectations from observations at Earth, the downward energy flux from discrete acceleration is less at Jupiter than that caused by broadband or stochastic processes, with broadband and stochastic characteristics that are substantially different from those at Earth.

Jupiter’s powerful aurora is surprisingly different from Earth’s

7 September 2017 - 9:11am

We always assumed that auroras on Jupiter were caused by the same process that brings the swirling light shows to Earth. New observations show that they aren’t

The sun just belched out the strongest solar flare in 12 years

7 September 2017 - 9:10am

If your GPS has been acting funny, take it up with the sun. Our star has released the most powerful solar flare since 2005

Celebrating Europe's science highlights with Cassini

7 September 2017 - 9:09am

The international Cassini-Huygens mission has explored Saturn and its rings and moons for 13 years, and will conclude by plunging into the planet's atmosphere next week. This article highlights some of the mission's exciting discoveries led by European teams.

Meteor bursting into flames caught on camera.

6 September 2017 - 9:23am

A home security camera caught the moment a meteor over Canada burst into flames.

‘Impossible’ star explosions made by gas and solar wind pile-up

5 September 2017 - 10:07am

Stellar explosions often shine brighter than is theoretically possible without blowing up entirely. Debris cloud smash-ups could be amplifying the light

Asteroid Florence buzzes Earth in closest fly-by since 1890

5 September 2017 - 10:07am

A 4.4-kilometre-wide space rock whizzed past Earth on its closest orbit in over a century. This asteroid won’t get this close again until after 2500

Some of Uranus’s small moons are doomed to collide

5 September 2017 - 10:06am

The first measurement of the mass of a small Uranian moon suggests it will be obliterated after smashing into one of its neighbours in the next million years

Voyager 1 at 40: Scientists 'amazed' 1970s space probe still works

5 September 2017 - 10:05am

The Voyager 1 space probe was launched 40 years ago and continues to send back data from interstellar space.

Xavier Barcons Starts as New ESO Director General

4 September 2017 - 9:20am
On 1 September 2017, Xavier Barcons became ESO’s eighth Director General, succeeding Tim de Zeeuw who has served since 2007. Barcons begins his tenure at an exciting time for ESO. Construction of the Extremely Large Telescope is progressing rapidly and it is set to see first light in 2024.

Some TRAPPIST-1 planets may have the right conditions for water

1 September 2017 - 9:15am

Water on the planets nearest the TRAPPIST-1 star would be destroyed by UV radiation but it could survive on the cooler worlds in the habitable zone

Spiralling galaxy arms spread oxygen around for future planets

1 September 2017 - 9:14am

The spiral arms of a galaxy called NGC 1365 contain 60 per cent more oxygen than the space between, the most extreme variation seen in a galaxy like this