Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

New Exoplanet-hunting Telescopes on Paranal

14 January 2015 - 11:10am
The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) has achieved first light at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. This project will search for transiting exoplanets — planets that pass in front of their parent star and hence produce a slight dimming of the star’s light that can be detected by sensitive instruments. The telescopes will focus on discovering Neptune-sized and smaller planets, with diameters between two and eight times that of Earth.

Huge circle in Antarctic ice hints at meteorite impact

9 January 2015 - 7:14pm
A 2-kilometre-wide circle of deformed ice discovered in Antarctica may be a site of a large meteorite impact from 2004

‘Bent time’ tips pulsar out of view

9 January 2015 - 5:46pm

One of deep space's spinning "lighthouses" fades from view as it warps space-time, tilting its radio beams away from Earth.

'Planet' Pluto comes into view

9 January 2015 - 3:48pm

The little world is finally about to come into view

Saturn pinpointed to within one mile

9 January 2015 - 11:52am

Astronomers measure Saturn’s position with unprecedented accuracy thanks to a continent-wide radio telescope.

Mercury may be sole survivor of planetary pile-up

8 January 2015 - 6:28pm
Our solar system may have started out with several planets packed closer to the sun than Mercury, much like the planets we see around other stars

Jupiter's eroding core may already be just a husk

8 January 2015 - 1:51pm

The lump of ice and rock at the planet's centre is dissolving like salt in water, and the latest calculations say it's happening twice as fast as we thought

Bright black hole may have blasted early Earth life

8 January 2015 - 12:14pm

The black hole at the centre of our galaxy may have been more active in the past, hurling X-rays at ancient life forms

Kepler Discovers 1000th Exoplanet

8 January 2015 - 5:09am
How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study -- the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Explosive stellar tussle revealed

8 January 2015 - 4:06am

Astrophysicists studying the unstable "stellar monster" Eta Carinae unveil fresh insights and a 3D model of the destructive maelstrom at its heart.

Hubble: Pillars of Creation are … lars of Destruction

7 January 2015 - 11:17pm
Recently, Hubble revisited the famous "Pillars of Creation," providing astronomers with a sharper and wider view of the iconic star forming region. The image hints that the Pillars of Creation might also be "pillars of destruction."

Brave new world-hunters spot exoplanets on the cheap

7 January 2015 - 9:33pm

You don't need a multi-million-dollar budget to find alien worlds – off-the-shelf scopes rigged together can spot our cosmic neighbours too

The temperature and chronology of heavy-element synthesis in low-mass stars

7 January 2015 - 7:59pm

The temperature and chronology of heavy-element synthesis in low-mass stars

Nature 517, 7533 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature14050

Authors: P. Neyskens, S. Van Eck, A. Jorissen, S. Goriely, L. Siess & B. Plez

Roughly half of the heavy elements (atomic mass greater than that of iron) are believed to be synthesized in the late evolutionary stages of stars with masses between 0.8 and 8 solar masses. Deep inside the star, nuclei (mainly iron) capture neutrons and progressively build up (through the slow-neutron-capture process, or s-process) heavier elements that are subsequently brought to the stellar surface by convection. Two neutron sources, activated at distinct temperatures, have been proposed: 13C and 22Ne, each releasing one neutron per α-particle (4He) captured. To explain the measured stellar abundances, stellar evolution models invoking the 13C neutron source (which operates at temperatures of about one hundred million kelvin) are favoured. Isotopic ratios in primitive meteorites, however, reflecting nucleosynthesis in the previous generations of stars that contributed material to the Solar System, point to higher temperatures (more than three hundred million kelvin), requiring at least a late activation of 22Ne (ref. 1). Here we report a determination of the s-process temperature directly in evolved low-mass giant stars, using zirconium and niobium abundances, independently of stellar evolution models. The derived temperature supports 13C as the s-process neutron source. The radioactive pair 93Zr–93Nb used to estimate the s-process temperature also provides, together with the pair 99Tc–99Ru, chronometric information on the time elapsed since the start of the s-process, which we determine to be one million to three million years.

Where Did All the Stars Go?

7 January 2015 - 12:25pm
Some of the stars appear to be missing in this intriguing new ESO image. But the black gap in this glitteringly beautiful starfield is not really a gap, but rather a region of space clogged with gas and dust. This dark cloud is called LDN 483 — for Lynds Dark Nebula 483. Such clouds are the birthplaces of future stars. The Wide Field Imager, an instrument mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, captured this image of LDN 483 and its surroundings.