Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

This week, 1-8 March, is National Astronomy Week. Join in by counting the numbe...

4 March 2014 - 3:47pm
This week, 1-8 March, is National Astronomy Week.

Join in by counting the number of stars you can see in Orion, which helps scientists measure light pollution:

Star Count 2014 | National Astronomy Week 2014
NAW 2014 has joined forces with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the British Astronomical Association’s Campaign for Dark Skies to monitor the extent of light pollution.

Gaia tilt watched from Earth

4 March 2014 - 1:28pm

As part of the tests to try and diagnose the stray light issue noticed in the first month of instrument commissioning, the Gaia operations team is making a series of spacecraft orientation changes.

The spacecraft was first tilted from 45 to 42 degrees and then to 0 degrees, that is, facing its sunshield directly at the Sun. Then the spacecraft was returned to 45 degrees.

Gaia tilt seen from Earth

Astronomers Peter Veres and Bryce Bolin, who were following a call for Earth-bound observations to improve the prediction of Gaia’s brightness under different viewing conditions, used the 2.24m  telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to capture Gaia’s tilt from 0 to 45 degrees on 27 February.

The resulting movie nicely illustrates the change in brightness of the spacecraft over a period of around half an hour (12:14:52 UT to 12:42:06 UT), as Gaia’s sunshield tilted away from the Earth. Gaia is the bright object in the centre of the movie and moves downwards.

Dave Tholen, who processed the images, said: “We started with 10 second exposures for the first 30 exposures, then increased the exposure time to 20 seconds to get images 31 to 35, then increased again to 40 seconds for images 36 to 40. The last three exposures were 80 seconds each.”

The observations also captured a main belt asteroid (2002 RS34) moving from top centre to the right of the field of view in the movie.

As for the issue of stray light, the data are still being analysed. The tilting process will be repeated again, at a much slower rate, in order to gather more information from on-board systems during the transition period.

National Astronomy Week starts tomorrow, and runs from 1-8 March. Over 160 even...

28 February 2014 - 12:33pm
National Astronomy Week starts tomorrow, and runs from 1-8 March.

Over 160 events are happening throughout the UK. There's a map and search tool on

See also our press release:

National Astronomy Week 2014
All eyes will be on the skies between 1st and 8th March 2014 when an array of fascinating celestial objects will be gathered in the night sky. Throughout the week, astronomical organisations and societies all over the UK will be holding a host of special observing events open to the public. This is ...

Northern Lights illuminate the UK

27 February 2014 - 11:36pm
The Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights, is giving spectacular displays over parts of the UK, lighting up skies from Essex to south Wales.

Rule-breaking black hole blows weirdly powerful winds

27 February 2014 - 10:30pm
A black hole is eating faster than a cosmic speed limit allows, suggesting that small black holes may play a larger role in galaxy evolution than realised

Kepler bags huge haul of planets

26 February 2014 - 9:33pm
The science team sifting data from Nasa's Kepler space telescope says it has identified 715 new planets beyond our Solar System.

Hundreds of mini solar systems found in the Milky Way

26 February 2014 - 7:00pm
More than 700 possible planets found by a NASA telescope have been verified as real, and most live in scaled-down versions of our inner solar system

A Breakthrough in Planet Discoveries

26 February 2014 - 6:04pm
Today, NASA announced a breakthrough addition to the catalog of new planets. Researchers using Kepler have confirmed 715 new worlds, almost quadrupling the number of planets previously confirmed by the planet-hunting spacecraft. Some of the new worlds are similar in size to Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars.

Hubble Monitors Supernova in Nearby Galaxy M82

26 February 2014 - 5:00pm

Get larger image formats

This is a Hubble Space Telescope composite image of a supernova explosion designated SN 2014J in the galaxy M82, at a distance of approximately 11.5 million light-years from Earth. Astronomers using a ground-based telescope discovered the explosion on January 21, 2014. This Hubble photograph was taken on January 31, as the supernova approached its peak brightness.

NASA's Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds

26 February 2014 - 5:00pm
NASA's Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system.

Fresh hint of dark matter seen in neutrino search

25 February 2014 - 6:11pm
An inexplicable X-ray signal from galaxy clusters could be the long-awaited sign of dark matter – it would mean the strange stuff is made of elusive neutrinos

Herschel:Bullying black holes force galaxies to stay red and dead

25 February 2014 - 4:15pm
Herschel has discovered massive elliptical galaxies in the nearby Universe containing plenty of cold gas, even though the galaxies fail to produce new stars. Comparison with other data suggests that, while hot gas cools down in these galaxies, stars do not form because jets from the central supermassive black hole heat or stir up the gas and prevent it from turning into stars.

Grant helps gravitational waves hunt

25 February 2014 - 3:01pm
Scientists in Scotland are given a £4.2m grant to develop new technology to test for one of astronomy's most elusive targets - gravitational waves.

São Paulo poised to join megatelescope

25 February 2014 - 1:00am

São Paulo poised to join megatelescope

Nature 506, 7489 (2014).

Author: Elizabeth Gibney

Brazilian state mulls support for Giant Magellan Telescope.

'Biggest meteorite impact' hits Moon

24 February 2014 - 2:55pm
Astronomers have observed a record-breaking meteorite impact on the surface of the Moon.