Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Herschel discovers galaxy merger in the very early Universe

14 November 2017 - 9:13am

What seemed at first like a rare instance of a huge, ancient galaxy revealed itself to be an even rarer pair of extremely massive galaxies, seen on the brink of merging when the Universe was only a billion years old.

Neptune’s other moons were normal until Triton crashed the party

14 November 2017 - 9:12am

Neptune’s moons are unlike anything in the solar system, thanks to Triton barrelling in and laying waste to the moons that were there before it

Should we seed life through the cosmos using laser-driven ships?

14 November 2017 - 9:11am

Our galaxy may have billions of habitable worlds. A proposal to spread life says we should use giant lasers and light sails to send microbes out to them

Neptune’s other moons were normal until Triton crashed the party

13 November 2017 - 9:32am

Neptune’s moons are unlike anything in the solar system, thanks to Triton barrelling in and laying waste to the moons that were there before it

Venus and Jupiter conjunction: Sky-watchers witness dawn display

13 November 2017 - 9:29am

Enthusiasts were up before dawn for best UK views of the two brightest planets appearing together.

Giant star smash-up may have made the biggest neutron star ever

10 November 2017 - 9:26am

The collision that produced recent gravitational waves may have left behind the biggest neutron star ever seen. But it might have collapsed into a black hole

Tracking the first interstellar asteroid back to its home star

10 November 2017 - 9:24am

Last month, astronomers saw the first asteroid from outside our solar system speed by. Now, they're tracing its orbit back to find out where it came from

Observations of a Comet’s First Passage Through the Solar System Reveal Unexpected Secrets

10 November 2017 - 9:23am
Portal origin URL: Observations of a Comet’s First Passage Through the Solar System Reveal Unexpected Secrets Portal origin nid: 413023Published: Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 11:58Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Researchers onboard NASA’s flying observatory examined a new comet as it made its first approach through our solar system.Portal image: Artist’s depiction of Comet C/2012 K1 (also called Pan-STARRS) and its coma during its first approach into the solar system.Science Categories: Universe

Energetic eruptions leading to a peculiar hydrogen-rich explosion of a massive star

9 November 2017 - 9:40am

Energetic eruptions leading to a peculiar hydrogen-rich explosion of a massive star

Nature 551, 7679 (2017). doi:10.1038/nature24030

Authors: Iair Arcavi, D. Andrew Howell, Daniel Kasen, Lars Bildsten, Griffin Hosseinzadeh, Curtis McCully, Zheng Chuen Wong, Sarah Rebekah Katz, Avishay Gal-Yam, Jesper Sollerman, Francesco Taddia, Giorgos Leloudas, Christoffer Fremling, Peter E. Nugent, Assaf Horesh, Kunal Mooley, Clare Rumsey, S. Bradley Cenko, Melissa L. Graham, Daniel A. Perley, Ehud Nakar, Nir J. Shaviv, Omer Bromberg, Ken J. Shen, Eran O. Ofek, Yi Cao, Xiaofeng Wang, Fang Huang, Liming Rui, Tianmeng Zhang, Wenxiong Li, Zhitong Li, Jujia Zhang, Stefano Valenti, David Guevel, Benjamin Shappee, Christopher S. Kochanek, Thomas W.-S. Holoien, Alexei V. Filippenko, Rob Fender, Anders Nyholm, Ofer Yaron, Mansi M. Kasliwal, Mark Sullivan, Nadja Blagorodnova, Richard S. Walters, Ragnhild Lunnan, Danny Khazov, Igor Andreoni, Russ R. Laher, Nick Konidaris, Przemek Wozniak & Brian Bue

Every supernova so far observed has been considered to be the terminal explosion of a star. Moreover, all supernovae with absorption lines in their spectra show those lines decreasing in velocity over time, as the ejecta expand and thin, revealing slower-moving material that was previously hidden. In addition, every supernova that exhibits the absorption lines of hydrogen has one main light-curve peak, or a plateau in luminosity, lasting approximately 100 days before declining. Here we report observations of iPTF14hls, an event that has spectra identical to a hydrogen-rich core-collapse supernova, but characteristics that differ extensively from those of known supernovae. The light curve has at least five peaks and remains bright for more than 600 days; the absorption lines show little to no decrease in velocity; and the radius of the line-forming region is more than an order of magnitude bigger than the radius of the photosphere derived from the continuum emission. These characteristics are consistent with a shell of several tens of solar masses ejected by the progenitor star at supernova-level energies a few hundred days before a terminal explosion. Another possible eruption was recorded at the same position in 1954. Multiple energetic pre-supernova eruptions are expected to occur in stars of 95 to 130 solar masses, which experience the pulsational pair instability. That model, however, does not account for the continued presence of hydrogen, or the energetics observed here. Another mechanism for the violent ejection of mass in massive stars may be required.

Astronomy: The star that would not die

9 November 2017 - 9:40am

Astronomy: The star that would not die

Nature 551, 7679 (2017). doi:10.1038/551173a

Authors: Stan Woosley

An event that initially resembled an ordinary supernova explosion continued to erupt brightly for more than 600 days. Standard theoretical models cannot explain the event's properties. See Letter p.210

Dark-matter hunt fails to find the elusive particles

9 November 2017 - 9:39am

Dark-matter hunt fails to find the elusive particles

Nature 551, 7679 (2017). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/551153a

Author: Elizabeth Gibney

Physicists begin to embrace alternative explanations for the missing material.

'Zombie' star survived going supernova

9 November 2017 - 9:36am

Astronomers discover the astronomical equivalent of a horror film villain: a star that wouldn't stay dead.

Powering Saturn's Active Ocean Moon

8 November 2017 - 9:17am

Heat from friction could power hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus for billions of years if the moon has a highly porous core, according to a new modeling study by European and U.S. researchers working on NASA's Cassini mission.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 12:13

<p>A black hole’s jets light up in less than a second</p>

8 November 2017 - 9:17am

A black hole’s jets light up in less than a second

<p>A black hole’s jets light up in less than a second</p>, Published online: 06 November 2017; doi:10.1038/d41586-017-05527-2

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Plasma jets start to shine just after less-fortunate material swirls towards its doom.

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Enceladus’s hot, gritty core may cook up ingredients for life

7 November 2017 - 10:11am

Saturn’s moon Enceladus seems to have a sandy core that warms water passing between the grains. This heating could help create conditions that are right for life

Electronics Demonstrate Operability in Simulated Venus Conditions

7 November 2017 - 10:10am
Technology Development 

NASA’s future planetary exploration efforts, including missions to Venus, require electronics capable of surviving temperatures of 470° C and above for long durations. Such durable electronics eliminate the need for cooling systems to enable sustained operations. Previous operation of electronics at Venus surface conditions (e.g., in Venus missions) has been limited to a few hours in a protected pressure/temperature enclosure, due to the extreme environment. Standard electronics used commercially and for planetary exploration are based on silicon semiconductors, which do not operate at Venus temperatures. A team at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) has been working to develop hightemperature electronics based on silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors that can operate at Venus temperatures and above. Recently, the team demonstrated that a variety of the world’s first moderately complex SiC-based microcircuits (tens or more of transistors) could withstand up to 4000 hours of operation at 500° C. These demonstrations included core circuits such as digital logic circuits and analog operational amplifiers that are used throughout electronic systems.

Top: GEER replicates Venus simulated surface conditions, including temperature, pressure, and chemical composition. Bottom: High temperature ring oscillator continues stable operation in these “Venus conditions” for 521 hours.

Testing of two these circuits occurred in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER), which simulates Venus surface conditions including high temperature and pressure. In April 2016, the team demonstrated a SiC high-temperature 12-transistor ring oscillator at Venus surface conditions (460° C, 93 atm pressure, supercritical CO² and trace gases) in the GEER for 21.7 days (521 hours) with good stability throughout the entire test. This Venus surface demonstration of moderately complex electronics is a significant world record—orders of magnitude in duration beyond any other Venus surface condition electronics demonstration. Testing in Venus conditions was ended after 21 days for scheduling reasons; similar ring oscillator circuits have shown thousands of hours of operations at 500° C in Earth-air ambient oven conditions.

SiC high-temperature electronics before and after testing in Venus surface conditions (rugged operation for extended durations). (Credits: top: Marvin Smith, NASA GRC; Bottom: David Spry, NASA GRC) Impact 

These advances are a paradigm shift that broadly enables new science exploration, especially for the Venus surface. SMD began a project in FY17—the Long-Life In-situ Solar System Explorer (LLISSE)—that will incorporate these new SiC electronics. LLISSE is developing a functioning prototype of a low-cost scientific probe capable of providing basic, but highvalue, science measurements from the surface of Venus continuously for months or longer. Such a probe was not viable previously, and will revolutionize our understanding of the Venus surface. This new technology also impacts potential development of probes exploring the Gas Giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) or the surface of Mercury. SiCbased electronics could also enable an intelligent aeronautics engine to monitor and respond to its own health state, and could be used in a range of commercial applications, such as deep oil well drilling or industrial processing.

Status and Future Plans 

In August 2016, the team completed fabrication of “next-generation” extreme temperature integrated circuit wafers featuring significantly more complex digital and analog circuits (more than 100 transistors). In October, the team initiated prolonged 500° C testing (Earth-air atmosphere) of “next-generation” integrated circuits with more than 100 transistors. Plans include producing increasingly complex high temperature SiC electronics to meet the needs of the LLISSE project and other applications. NASA will use a “design and build” approach to increase the capabilities of the basic electronics components, while providing new circuit types as needed for specific applications.

Sponsoring Organization

Multiple projects have supported this technology development in 2016. PSD’s PICASSO program sponsored work to develop a range of SiC core circuits for multiple applications and missions. SMD’s LLISSE Project worked to refine high-temperature SiC circuits for use on a Venus surface lander. Additionally, the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Transformative Tool and Technologies Project supported development of high-temperature electronics for aeronautic engine applications.

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Heating ocean moon Enceladus for billions of years

7 November 2017 - 10:09am

Enough heat to power hydrothermal activity inside Saturn's ocean moon Enceladus for billions of years could be generated through tidal friction if the moon has a highly porous core, a new study finds, working in favour of the moon as a potentially habitable world.

Return of the Comet: 96P Spotted by ESA, NASA Satellites

6 November 2017 - 9:22am
Portal origin URL: Return of the Comet: 96P Spotted by ESA, NASA SatellitesPortal origin nid: 412733Published: Friday, November 3, 2017 - 09:28Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Sun-gazing missions SOHO and STEREO watched the return of comet 96P/Machholz when it entered their fields of view between Oct. 25-30. It is extremely rare for comets to be seen simultaneously from two different locations in space, and these are the most comprehensive parallel observations ever taken of this comet.Portal image: animation of STEREO observations of comet 96PScience Categories: Sun

Hubble Sees Nearby Asteroids Photobombing Distant Galaxies

6 November 2017 - 9:22am

Like rude relatives who jump in front of your vacation snapshots of landscapes, some of our solar system's asteroids have photobombed deep images of the universe taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. These asteroids reside, on average, only about 160 million miles from Earth — right around the corner in astronomical terms. Yet they've horned their way into this picture of thousands of galaxies scattered across space and time at inconceivably farther distances.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Friday, November 3, 2017 - 15:08

ALMA Discovers Cold Dust Around Nearest Star

6 November 2017 - 9:21am
The ALMA Observatory in Chile has detected dust around the closest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri. These new observations reveal the glow coming from cold dust in a region between one to four times as far from Proxima Centauri as the Earth is from the Sun. The data also hint at the presence of an even cooler outer dust belt and may indicate the presence of an elaborate planetary system. These structures are similar to the much larger belts in the Solar System and are also expected to be made from particles of rock and ice that failed to form planets.