Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Rosetta catches its own shadow

3 March 2015 - 10:28am

The Rosetta satellite sees its own shadow in the highest resolution image it has so far taken of Comet 67P.

Puzzling Bright Spots on Dwarf Planet Ceres

2 March 2015 - 10:09am
Cruising through the asteroid belt, NASA Dawn spacecraft is approaching dwarf planet Ceres, and some puzzling features are coming into focus. Researchers are especially mystified by a pair of bright spots.

'Bright Spot' on Ceres Has Dimmer Companion

2 March 2015 - 10:09am
Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres, reveal that a bright spot that stands out in previous images lies close to yet another bright area.

'Exquisite' gravity probe leaves UK

2 March 2015 - 10:02am

UK industry completes construction of the modules that make up the Lisa Pathfinder satellite - a remarkable probe that will test the key technologies needed to detect gravitational waves in space.

Abstract submissions are now open for NAM 2015! The National Astronomy Meeting...

26 February 2015 - 8:24pm
Abstract submissions are now open for NAM 2015!

The National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) is the largest gathering of professional astronomers in the UK. Each year around 600 astronomers meet to present their research and discuss the latest developments in the field. This year NAM will be held in Llandudno, north Wales, from 5-9 July.

The deadline for submitting an abstract for a talk or poster presentation is 1 April.

Looking Deeply into the Universe in 3D

26 February 2015 - 12:05pm
The MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope has given astronomers the best ever three-dimensional view of the deep Universe. After staring at the Hubble Deep Field South region for only 27 hours, the new observations reveal the distances, motions and other properties of far more galaxies than ever before in this tiny piece of the sky. They also go beyond Hubble and reveal previously invisible objects.

A tale of two dwarf planets

25 February 2015 - 8:41pm

A tale of two dwarf planets

Nature 518, 7540 (2015).

Author: Alex Witze

Graphical guide to the NASA missions that will provide the first close looks at Ceres and Pluto.

Planetary science: The Pluto siblings

25 February 2015 - 8:41pm

Planetary science: The Pluto siblings

Nature 518, 7540 (2015).

Author: Alexandra Witze

Leslie and Eliot Young have spent their lives studying Pluto. Now they are gearing up for the biggest event of their careers.

Cosmology: A giant in the young Universe

25 February 2015 - 8:41pm

Cosmology: A giant in the young Universe

Nature 518, 7540 (2015). doi:10.1038/518490b

Authors: Bram Venemans

Astronomers have discovered an extremely massive black hole from a time when the Universe was less than 900 million years old. The result provides insight into the growth of black holes and galaxies in the young Universe. See Letter p.512

An ultraluminous quasar with a twelve-billion-solar-mass black hole at redshift 6.30

25 February 2015 - 8:41pm

An ultraluminous quasar with a twelve-billion-solar-mass black hole at redshift 6.30

Nature 518, 7540 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature14241

Authors: Xue-Bing Wu, Feige Wang, Xiaohui Fan, Weimin Yi, Wenwen Zuo, Fuyan Bian, Linhua Jiang, Ian D. McGreer, Ran Wang, Jinyi Yang, Qian Yang, David Thompson & Yuri Beletsky

So far, roughly 40 quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 have been discovered. Each quasar contains a black hole with a mass of about one billion solar masses (109). The existence of such black holes when the Universe was less than one billion years old presents substantial challenges to theories of the formation and growth of black holes and the coevolution of black holes and galaxies. Here we report the discovery of an ultraluminous quasar, SDSS J010013.02+280225.8, at redshift z = 6.30. It has an optical and near-infrared luminosity a few times greater than those of previously known z > 6 quasars. On the basis of the deep absorption trough on the blue side of the Lyman-α emission line in the spectrum, we estimate the proper size of the ionized proximity zone associated with the quasar to be about 26 million light years, larger than found with other z > 6.1 quasars with lower luminosities. We estimate (on the basis of a near-infrared spectrum) that the black hole has a mass of ∼1.2 × 1010, which is consistent with the 1.3 × 1010 derived by assuming an Eddington-limited accretion rate.

An extremely high-altitude plume seen at Mars’ morning terminator

25 February 2015 - 8:41pm

An extremely high-altitude plume seen at Mars’ morning terminator

Nature 518, 7540 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature14162

Authors: A. Sánchez-Lavega, A. García Muñoz, E. García-Melendo, S. Pérez-Hoyos, J. M. Gómez-Forrellad, C. Pellier, M. Delcroix, M. A. López-Valverde, F. González-Galindo, W. Jaeschke, D. Parker, J. Phillips & D. Peach

The Martian limb (that is, the observed ‘edge’ of the planet) represents a unique window into the complex atmospheric phenomena occurring there. Clouds of ice crystals (CO2 ice or H2O ice) have been observed numerous times by spacecraft and ground-based telescopes, showing that clouds are typically layered and always confined below an altitude of 100 kilometres; suspended dust has also been detected at altitudes up to 60 kilometres during major dust storms. Highly concentrated and localized patches of auroral emission controlled by magnetic field anomalies in the crust have been observed at an altitude of 130 kilometres. Here we report the occurrence in March and April 2012 of two bright, extremely high-altitude plumes at the Martian terminator (the day–night boundary) at 200 to 250 kilometres or more above the surface, and thus well into the ionosphere and the exosphere. They were spotted at a longitude of about 195° west, a latitude of about −45° (at Terra Cimmeria), extended about 500 to 1,000 kilometres in both the north–south and east–west directions, and lasted for about 10 days. The features exhibited day-to-day variability, and were seen at the morning terminator but not at the evening limb, which indicates rapid evolution in less than 10 hours and a cyclic behaviour. We used photometric measurements to explore two possible scenarios and investigate their nature. For particles reflecting solar radiation, clouds of CO2-ice or H2O-ice particles with an effective radius of 0.1 micrometres are favoured over dust. Alternatively, the plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth’s aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected. Importantly, both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

Ancient black hole had an inexplicable growth spurt

25 February 2015 - 8:30pm

Reaching 12 billion times the mass of the sun just a billion years after the big bang, a black hole has astronomers mystified about its rapid growth

NASA Briefing to Discuss First Spacecraft Arrival at a Dwarf Planet

24 February 2015 - 11:32pm

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will host a briefing at noon EST (9 a.m. PST) Monday, March 2, to discuss the March 6 arrival of the agency’s Dawn spacecraft at the dwarf planet Ceres. The news briefing, held at JPL’s von Karman Auditorium at 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, California, will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website.

The plan to find alien life in Europa's icy seas

24 February 2015 - 9:42pm
We're getting ready to send a probe to Jupiter's icy moon – but how will we know if anything lives there?

New Images of Pluto

22 February 2015 - 10:30pm
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft returned its first new images of Pluto on Wednesday, as the probe closes in on the dwarf planet. Although still just a dot along with its largest moon, Charon, the images come on the 109th birthday of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the distant icy world in 1930.

Astronomers Discover Ancient System … e Small Planets

22 February 2015 - 10:30pm
Astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler mission have discovered a planetary system of five small planets dating back to when the Milky Way galaxy was a youthful two billion years old.

Black hole's blast stunts stars

20 February 2015 - 8:31pm

The winds blasted out by supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies are strong enough to slow the birth of new stars, astronomers reveal.

Searching for signs of Mars life could destroy them

20 February 2015 - 2:34am
A common sulphate mineral on Mars may be a signpost for habitability, but just looking for organic compounds might obliterate them

Widespread wind from black hole can shape star formation

19 February 2015 - 10:19pm

Astronomers have discovered that the winds from supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies are blasted out in all directions. This new finding was made possible by observations with ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's NuSTAR X-ray telescopes and it supports the picture of black holes having a significant impact on star formation of their host galaxy.

NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds

19 February 2015 - 9:38pm

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions -- a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.