Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Controllers banking on Philae wake-up

30 January 2015 - 2:33pm

The European Space Agency says it will conduct no more dedicated searches for its lost comet lander, and will now wait for the probe itself to call home.

Study fells cosmic inflation claim

30 January 2015 - 11:42am

Scientists who claimed to have found evidence for a cosmic super-expansion at the Big Bang made no such discovery, a soon-to-be published study will say.

NASA’s Chandra Detects Record-Breaking … s Black Hole

29 January 2015 - 7:28pm
Astronomers have observed the largest X-ray flare ever detected from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This event, detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, raises questions about the behavior of this giant black hole and its surrounding environment.

NASA Observatories Take an Unprecedented … ta Carinae

29 January 2015 - 7:28pm
Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years of Earth, is known for its surprising behavior, erupting twice in the 19th century for reasons scientists still don't understand. A long-term study led by astronomers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used NASA satellites, ground-based telescopes and theoretical modeling to produce the most comprehensive picture of Eta Carinae to date.

The tell-tale signs of a galactic merger [heic1503]

29 January 2015 - 4:47pm

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this striking view of spiral galaxy NGC 7714. This galaxy has drifted too close to another nearby galaxy and the dramatic interaction has twisted its spiral arms out of shape, dragged streams of material out into space, and triggered bright bursts of star formation.

Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy

29 January 2015 - 4:36pm

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At first glance, galaxy NGC 7714 resembles a partial golden ring from an amusement park ride. This unusual structure is a river of Sun-like stars that has been pulled deep into space by the gravitational tug of a bypassing galaxy (not seen in this Hubble Space Telescope photo). Though the universe is full of such colliding galaxies that are distorted in a gravitational taffy-pull, NGC 7714 is particularly striking for the seeming fluidity of the stars along a vast arc. The near-collision between the galaxies happened at least 100 million years ago.

Twinkle telescope to check out exoplanet climate

29 January 2015 - 10:22am

If all goes to plan, the UK will launch a telescope to find out more about known exoplanets' atmospheres in four years

Astrophysics: Stellar clocks

28 January 2015 - 7:15pm

Astrophysics: Stellar clocks

Nature 517, 7536 (2015). doi:10.1038/517557a

Authors: David Soderblom

A link between rotation and age for Sun-like stars has long been known, but a stringent test of it for older stars has been lacking. The Kepler mission helps to fill this gap with observations of an old star cluster. See Letter p.589

A spin-down clock for cool stars from observations of a 2.5-billion-year-old cluster

28 January 2015 - 7:15pm

A spin-down clock for cool stars from observations of a 2.5-billion-year-old cluster

Nature 517, 7536 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature14118

Authors: Søren Meibom, Sydney A. Barnes, Imants Platais, Ronald L. Gilliland, David W. Latham & Robert D. Mathieu

The ages of the most common stars—low-mass (cool) stars like the Sun, and smaller—are difficult to derive because traditional dating methods use stellar properties that either change little as the stars age or are hard to measure. The rotation rates of all cool stars decrease substantially with time as the stars steadily lose their angular momenta. If properly calibrated, rotation therefore can act as a reliable determinant of their ages based on the method of gyrochronology. To calibrate gyrochronology, the relationship between rotation period and age must be determined for cool stars of different masses, which is best accomplished with rotation period measurements for stars in clusters with well-known ages. Hitherto, such measurements have been possible only in clusters with ages of less than about one billion years, and gyrochronology ages for older stars have been inferred from model predictions. Here we report rotation period measurements for 30 cool stars in the 2.5-billion-year-old cluster NGC 6819. The periods reveal a well-defined relationship between rotation period and stellar mass at the cluster age, suggesting that ages with a precision of order 10 per cent can be derived for large numbers of cool Galactic field stars.

Curiosity rover back in the groove

28 January 2015 - 6:53pm

Nasa's Curiosity rover gets straight back to work after a software upgrade by drilling a new test hole.

Solo supernovae challenge cosmic distance standards

28 January 2015 - 6:46pm
Supernovae were thought to need help from a nearby star – if they don't, we may have to rethink how we measure cosmic distances as well as dark energy

Fractals seen in throbs of pulsating golden stars

28 January 2015 - 3:09pm
Zoom in on a star's vibrations and, if they're related by the golden ratio, you might see fractals, like a coastline. This could tell us about what's going on inside

The Mouth of the Beast

28 January 2015 - 11:07am
Like the gaping mouth of a gigantic celestial creature, the cometary globule CG4 glows menacingly in this new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Although it appears to be big and bright in this picture, this is actually a faint nebula, which makes it very hard for amateur astronomers to spot. The exact nature of CG4 remains a mystery.

Kepler find reveals 'dawn of galaxy'

28 January 2015 - 6:27am

An ancient solar system similar to our own is discovered by scientists at the University of Birmingham studying data from the Kepler telescope.

Best ever view of asteroid Ceres

27 January 2015 - 6:05pm

The best image ever acquired of Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Solar System, is now in the hands of science.

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Captures Best-Ever View of Dwarf Planet

27 January 2015 - 3:29pm

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on Jan. 25, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet.

Planet hosts giant ring system

27 January 2015 - 1:58pm

Astronomers say they have discovered a gigantic ring system around a distant planet - the first such structure discovered outside our Solar System.

Near asteroid 2004 BL86 has a moon

27 January 2015 - 1:58pm

Scientists who tracked the large asteroid 2004 BL86 as it passed by Earth say it has a small satellite.

Ancient planets are almost as old as the universe

27 January 2015 - 2:21am
The oldest rocky planets yet are 11.2 billion years old, just a little younger than the universe – meaning the galaxy made an early start on planet building

Rosetta watches comet shed its dusty coat

26 January 2015 - 7:15pm

ESA's Rosetta mission is providing unique insight into the life cycle of a comet's dusty surface, watching 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it sheds the dusty coat it has accumulated over the past four years.