Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Stephen Hawking PhD readers crash Cambridge University website

25 October 2017 - 8:13am

Stephen Hawking's PhD thesis, written as a 24-year-old, was made available to the public on Monday.

Possible exomoon may be an ocean-covered world as big as Saturn

24 October 2017 - 8:16am

The exomoon candidate found in July is a real oddity – early calculations suggest it’s huge and doesn’t fit any moon formation processes we currently know

Coated Mirrors Achieve Record-setting Far Ultraviolet Reflectance Levels

24 October 2017 - 8:15am
Technology Development

In 2016, scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) produced mirrors with the highest reflectance ever reported in the farultraviolet (FUV) spectral range (100-200 nm). To develop these mirrors, the team developed a new three-step physical vapor deposition process to coat aluminum mirrors with protective magnesium fluoride (MgF²) or lithium fluoride (LiF) films to protect the aluminum from naturally occurring oxidation and boost its reflectance performance in the FUV.

Impact  Schematic cross-section of aluminum
film overcoated with a fluoride layer
with low absorption (A) and low
scattering (S) to provide maximum
reflectance (R).

These high-reflectance coatings will enable new types of instruments (particularly in the FUV spectral region) that can provide scientists with knowledge that could impact society. For example, NASA is developing a new set of Heliophysics satellites—including the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) and the Globalscale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD)—that will employ these coatings. ICON and GOLD will have the higher sensitivity required to collect data about the forces at play in the near-space environment of Earth’s upper atmosphere. These atmospheric regions are very sensitive to space weather events and space climate, and monitoring them will help scientists understand the interactions between Earth’s ionosphere and solar winds that can drive extreme weather systems. In addition, these observations will enable researchers to understand disturbances that can lead to severe interference with communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) signals.

The ICON FUV spectrograph. Status and Future Plans 

In 2016, NASA fully validated these protective coatings to ensure that they provide over 90% reflectance in the 133.6-154.5 nm range for the ICON and GOLD projects. The team is also investigating additional new types of fluoride coatings that can be used to protect aluminum to meet requirements of next-generation NASA observatories, such as the Large Ultraviolet/Optical/ Infrared (LUVOIR) surveyor.

Sponsoring Organization 

SMD previously supported development of these new coating technologies through an SAT grant and currently sponsors this work via the APRA program. The technology lead is Manuel Quijada at NASA GSFC.

Read more Technology Stories

Master Image: 

New Hubble Gallery Features Objects from Popular Messier Catalog

24 October 2017 - 8:14am

In a nod to the global amateur astronomy community, as well as to any space enthusiast who enjoys the beauty of the cosmos, the Hubble Space Telescope mission is releasing its version of the popular Messier catalog, featuring some of Hubble’s best images of these celestial objects that were once noted for looking like comets but turned out not to be. This release coincides with the Orionid meteor shower — a spectacle that occurs each year when Earth flies through a debris field left behind by Halley’s Comet when it last visited the inner solar system in 1986. The shower will peak during the pre-dawn hours this Saturday, Oct. 21. 

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Monday, October 23, 2017 - 18:57

Step inside the mind of the young Stephen Hawking as his PhD thesis goes online for first time

23 October 2017 - 8:11am

The 1966 doctoral thesis by the world’s most recognisable scientist is the most requested item in Apollo with the catalogue record alone attracting hundreds of views per month. In just the past few months, the University has received hundreds of requests from readers wishing to download Professor Hawking’s thesis in full.

To celebrate Open Access Week 2017, Cambridge University Library’s Office of Scholarly Communication has today announced Professor Hawking’s permission to make his thesis freely available and Open Access in Apollo. By making his PhD thesis Open Access, anyone can now freely download and read this historic and compelling research by the then little-known 24-year-old Cambridge postgraduate.

Professor Hawking said: “By making my PhD thesis Open Access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos. Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.

“Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, just as I did as a young PhD student in Cambridge, inspired by the work of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein. It’s wonderful to hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis – hopefully they won’t be disappointed now that they finally have access to it!”


Dr Arthur Smith, Deputy Head of Scholarly Communication, said: “Open Access enables research. By eliminating the barriers between people and knowledge we can realise new breakthroughs in all areas of science, medicine and technology. It is especially important for disseminating the knowledge acquired during doctoral research studies. PhD theses contain a vast trove of untapped and unique information just waiting to be used, but which is often locked away from view and scrutiny.

“From October 2017 onwards, all PhD students graduating from the University of Cambridge will be required to deposit an electronic copy of their doctoral work for future preservation. And like Professor Hawking, we hope that many students will also take the opportunity to freely distribute their work online by making their thesis Open Access. We would also invite former University alumni to consider making their theses Open Access, too.”

While the University is committed to archiving all theses it is often a struggle gaining permission to open up historic theses. With the online publication of Professor Hawking’s thesis, Cambridge now hopes to encourage its former academics – which includes 98 Nobel Affiliates – to make their work freely available to all.

To make more of the University’s theses Open Access in Apollo, the Office of Scholarly Communication and Cambridge University Library will digitise the theses of any alumni who wish to make their dissertation Open Access. Interested alumni should contact

At a recent event to celebrate the 1,000th research dataset in Apollo, Dr Jessica Gardner, Director of Library Services, said: “Cambridge University Library has a 600-year-old history we are very proud of. It is home to the physical papers of such greats as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Their research data was on paper and we have preserved that with great care and share it openly on line through our digital library.

“But our responsibility now is today’s researcher and today’s scientists and people working across all disciplines across our great university. Our preservation stewardship of that research data from the digital humanities across the biomedical and that is a core part of what we now do.”

Apollo is home to over 200,000 digital objects including 15,000 research articles, 10,000 images, 2,400 theses and 1,000 datasets. The items made available in Apollo have been accessed from nearly every country in the world and in 2017 have collectively received over one million downloads.

Professor Hawking’s 1966 doctoral thesis ‘Properties of expanding universes’ is available in Apollo at or in high resolution on Cambridge Digital Library at

For further information about Open Access Week, visit:

Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis, Properties of expanding universes’, has been made freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world, after being made accessible via the University of Cambridge’s Open Access repository, Apollo.

Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.Stephen Hawking

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

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Dark energy survives neutron star crash test while rivals fail

23 October 2017 - 8:10am

We saw gravitational waves and light at the same moment from a neutron star merger, which means Einstein was right and some alternative theories are dead

Volcanoes that spew stretchy ice could make dwarf planets bright

23 October 2017 - 8:09am

Something strange is happening on dwarf planets Eris and Makemake. They’re tiny and cold, but they still show surprising signs of geologic activity, like real planets

The place spacecraft go to die

23 October 2017 - 8:07am

Why one of the Earth's most remote places is the preferred place to dump space junk.