Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

New Horizons Only One Year from Pluto

15 July 2014 - 12:42am
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is only a year away from Pluto. Researchers are buzzing with anticipation as NASA prepares to encounter a new world for the first time in decades.

Venus Express:Venus Express rises again

11 July 2014 - 2:22pm
After a month surfing in and out of the atmosphere of Venus down to just 130 km from the planet's surface, ESA's Venus Express is about to embark on a 15 day climb up to the lofty heights of 460 km.

CHEOPS:CHEOPS exoplanet mission meets key milestones en route to 2017 launch

11 July 2014 - 11:59am
ESA’s first small Science Programme mission is ready for construction. The implementation phase has started, meaning that the spacecraft has gone from selection to implementation in less than 18 months.

XMM-Newton:Bizarre nearby blast mimics Universe's most ancient stars

11 July 2014 - 8:57am
ESA's XMM-Newton observatory has helped to uncover how the Universe's first stars ended their lives in giant explosions.

NASA Spacecraft Observes Further Evidence of Dry Ice Gullies on Mars

10 July 2014 - 5:00pm
Repeated high-resolution observations made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) indicate the gullies on Mars’ surface are primarily formed by the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide, not liquid water.

Leading Space Experts to Discuss the Search for Life Beyond Earth

10 July 2014 - 5:00pm
NASA Television will air a panel discussion of leading science and engineering experts on Monday, July 14, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EDT, who will describe the scientific and technological roadmap that will lead to the discovery of potentially habitable worlds among the stars.

Hubble Spots Spiral Bridge of Young Stars Linking Two Ancient Galaxies

10 July 2014 - 3:30pm
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an unusual structure 100,000 light years long, which resembles a corkscrew-shaped string of pearls and winds around the cores of two colliding galaxies.

Hubble:Merging galaxies and droplets of starbirth [heic1414]

10 July 2014 - 3:00pm
The Universe is filled with objects springing to life, evolving and dying explosive deaths. This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures a snapshot of some of this cosmic movement. Embedded within the egg-shaped blue ring at the centre of the frame are two galaxies. These galaxies have been found to be merging into one and a "chain" of young stellar superclusters are seen winding around the galaxies' nuclei.

Hubble Sees Spiral Bridge of Young Stars Between Two Ancient Galaxies

10 July 2014 - 2:50pm

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It seems like our compulsive universe can be downright capricious when it comes to making oddball-looking things in the cosmos. The latest surprise to Hubble astronomers is a 100,000-light-year-long structure that looks like a string of pearls twisted into a corkscrew shape. This Slinky-like structure forms a bridge between two giant elliptical galaxies that are colliding. The "pearls" on the Slinky are superclusters of blazing, blue-white, newly born stars. The whole assembly, which looks like a tug-of-war, must result from the gravitational tidal forces present in the collision.

Rosetta: 'Spuds in space'

10 July 2014 - 2:14pm
Rosetta's comet quarry shapes up

Rosetta:The three faces of Rosetta's comet

10 July 2014 - 2:13pm
What a difference a week can make. Even in the six days since the last image, the shape of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is becoming much more apparent, although still heavily pixelated.

Exoplanet names will be put to public vote

10 July 2014 - 12:51pm
The international group that names cosmic bodies is crowd-sourcing names for exoplanets – but will you be able to name a planet Alderaan or Westeros?






VLT Clears Up Dusty Mystery

9 July 2014 - 6:00pm
A group of astronomers has been able to follow stardust being made in real time — during the aftermath of a supernova explosion. For the first time they show that these cosmic dust factories make their grains in a two-stage process, starting soon after the explosion, but continuing for years afterwards. The team used ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in northern Chile to analyse the light from the supernova SN2010jl as it slowly faded. The new results are published online in the journal Nature on 9 July 2014.

Astrophysics: Survival of the largest

9 July 2014 - 1:00am

Astrophysics: Survival of the largest

Nature 511, 7509 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13640

Authors: Haley Gomez

Whether supernovae create most of the dust in the cosmos is a controversial question. Observations of a distant supernova have revealed signs of freshly formed dust, but the properties of the dust are unexpected. See Letter p.326

Rapid formation of large dust grains in the luminous supernova 2010jl

9 July 2014 - 1:00am

Rapid formation of large dust grains in the luminous supernova 2010jl

Nature 511, 7509 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13558

Authors: Christa Gall, Jens Hjorth, Darach Watson, Eli Dwek, Justyn R. Maund, Ori Fox, Giorgos Leloudas, Daniele Malesani & Avril C. Day-Jones

The origin of dust in galaxies is still a mystery. The majority of the refractory elements are produced in supernova explosions, but it is unclear how and where dust grains condense and grow, and how they avoid destruction in the harsh environments of star-forming galaxies. The recent detection of 0.1 to 0.5 solar masses of dust in nearby supernova remnants suggests in situ dust formation, while other observations reveal very little dust in supernovae in the first few years after explosion. Observations of the spectral evolution of the bright SN 2010jl have been interpreted as pre-existing dust, dust formation or no dust at all. Here we report the rapid (40 to 240 days) formation of dust in its dense circumstellar medium. The wavelength-dependent extinction of this dust reveals the presence of very large (exceeding one micrometre) grains, which resist destruction. At later times (500 to 900 days), the near-infrared thermal emission shows an accelerated growth in dust mass, marking the transition of the dust source from the circumstellar medium to the ejecta. This provides the link between the early and late dust mass evolution in supernovae with dense circumstellar media.

Planetary Science: Hit-and-run origin for Mercury

9 July 2014 - 1:00am

Planetary Science: Hit-and-run origin for Mercury

Nature 511, 7508 (2014). doi:10.1038/511129c

Mercury may have formed as the result of one or more 'hit-and-run' collisions between the many protoplanets in the early Solar System.Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, is unusual because its large metallic core lacks a massive rocky mantle like the ones that

Testing Completed on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Backplane

8 July 2014 - 5:00pm
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has reached another development milestone with the completion of static load testing of its primary mirror backplane support structure (PMBSS) moving the telescope one step closer to its 2018 launch.

Jet acceleration of the fast molecular outflows in the Seyfert galaxy IC 5063

6 July 2014 - 1:00am

Jet acceleration of the fast molecular outflows in the Seyfert galaxy IC 5063

Nature 511, 7510 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13520

Authors: C. Tadhunter, R. Morganti, M. Rose, J. B. R. Oonk & T. Oosterloo

Massive outflows driven by active galactic nuclei are widely recognized to have a key role in the evolution of galaxies, by heating the ambient gas, expelling it from the nuclear regions, and thereby affecting the star-formation histories of the galaxy bulges. It has been proposed that the powerful jets of relativistic particles (such as electrons) launched by some active nuclei can both accelerate and heat the molecular gas, which often dominates the mass budgets of the outflows. Clear evidence for this mechanism, in the form of detailed associations between the molecular gas kinematics and features in the radio-emitting jets, has however been lacking. Here we report that the warm molecular hydrogen gas in the western radio lobe of the Seyfert galaxy IC 5063 is moving at high velocities—up to about 600 kilometres per second—relative to the galaxy disk. This suggests that the molecules have been accelerated by fast shocks driven into the interstellar medium by the expanding radio jets. These results demonstrate the general feasibility of accelerating molecular outflows in fast shocks driven by active nuclei.

First life-friendly exoplanet may not exist after all

3 July 2014 - 7:00pm
Touted since 2007 as a top contender for hosting life, the rocky world Gliese 581 d may be no more than sunspots, according to a re-analysis of its signal






Cool planet hints at potential for life in double stars

3 July 2014 - 7:00pm
It is an unlikely spot for life, but a chilly exoplanet orbiting one star in a binary system suggests possible locations for more habitable worlds