Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Time to embrace our odd place in the cosmos, inside a huge void?

19 June 2017 - 9:13am

Evidence is growing that our neck of the universe is a whole lot of nothing. This alluring idea could settle a cosmological bun fight, says Geraint Lewis

NASA eyes Neptune and Uranus for missions in the 2030s

19 June 2017 - 9:12am

Four possible missions to the ice giants are being proposed, including orbiters and a fly-by, to tell us what they’re made of and how such planets form

Mistaken brown dwarf is actually two planets orbiting each other

16 June 2017 - 9:11am

New observations reveal a rare binary planet system made of two gas giants four times as massive as Jupiter that likely formed in the breakup of a protostar 10 million years ago

VST Captures Three-In-One

15 June 2017 - 10:37am
Two of the sky’s more famous residents share the stage with a lesser-known neighbour in this enormous new three gigapixel image from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST). On the right lies the faint, glowing cloud of gas called Sharpless 2-54, the iconic Eagle Nebula is in the centre, and the Omega Nebula to the left. This cosmic trio makes up just a portion of a vast complex of gas and dust within which new stars are springing to life and illuminating their surroundings.

Call for media: Last chance to view ESA's Mercury Explorer BepiColombo

15 June 2017 - 10:37am

Media representatives are invited to a briefing on BepiColombo, ESA and JAXA's joint mission to Mercury, and to view the spacecraft before it leaves for Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, for launch next year.

SOFIA Finds Cool Dust Around Energetic Active Black Holes

14 June 2017 - 8:56am
Portal origin URL: SOFIA Finds Cool Dust Around Energetic Active Black HolesPortal origin nid: 403531Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - 10:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio using observations from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, found that the dust surrounding active, ravenous black holes are much more compact than previously thought.Portal image: Illustration of the ring of dust that can obscure the energetic processes near the black hole of an active galactic nuclei. Science Categories: Universe

Messages from fake aliens decoded quickly in online SETI contest

13 June 2017 - 9:17am

The general public were challenged to decrypt a pretend message from outer space consisting of nearly 2 million binary digits. They took less than a month to solve it

How Jupiter split the asteroid belt in two shows its great age

13 June 2017 - 9:16am

An analysis of meteorites shows that Jupiter divided the rocks of the asteroid belt into two families within the first million years of the solar system

NASA Hosts Briefing on Latest Results of Exoplanet-Hunting Mission

13 June 2017 - 9:15am
NASA will hold a media briefing at 11 a.m. EDT Monday, June 19, to announce the latest planet candidate results from the agency's exoplanet-hunting Kepler mission. The briefing, taking place during the Kepler Science Conference, will be held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Corrigendum: Black hole growth in the early Universe is self-regulated and largely hidden from view

12 June 2017 - 9:55am

Corrigendum: Black hole growth in the early Universe is self-regulated and largely hidden from view

Nature 546, 7657 (2017). doi:10.1038/nature22810

Authors: Ezequiel Treister, Kevin Schawinski, Marta Volonteri, Priyamvada Natarajan & Eric Gawiser

Nature474, 356–358 (2011); doi:10.1038/nature10103Subsequent analysis with updated methodology by us and others has not confirmed the detection of the population described in this Letter. We suspect, as described in later work by our group,

ALMA Finds Ingredient of Life Around Infant Sun-like Stars

12 June 2017 - 9:52am
ALMA has observed stars like the Sun at a very early stage in their formation and found traces of methyl isocyanate — a chemical building block of life. This is the first ever detection of this prebiotic molecule towards solar-type protostars, the sort from which our Solar System evolved. The discovery could help astronomers understand how life arose on Earth.

The future of the Orion constellation

12 June 2017 - 9:49am

A new video, based on measurements by ESA's Gaia and Hipparcos satellites, shows how our view of the Orion constellation will evolve over the next 450 000 years.

Planet is 'hotter than most stars'

12 June 2017 - 9:49am

Scientists spend decades hunting Earth's twin only to turn up the most inhospitable world imaginable.

LIGO detects gravitational waves for third time

2 June 2017 - 9:05am

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) has made a third detection of gravitational waves, ripples in space and time, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened. As was the case with the first two detections, the waves were generated when two black holes collided to form a larger black hole.

The newfound black hole formed by the merger has a mass about 49 times that of our sun. “With this third confirmed detection we are uncovering the population of black holes in the Universe for the first time,” said Christopher Moore from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP), who is part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

The new detection occurred during LIGO’s current observing run, which began November 30, 2016, and will continue through the summer. LIGO is an international collaboration with members around the globe. Its observations are carried out by twin detectors—one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated by Caltech and MIT with funding from the United States National Science Foundation (NSF).

The LIGO group in Cambridge consists of seven researchers spread across DAMTP, the Cavendish Laboratory and the Institute of Astronomy.

“Answering key questions about the formation history of astrophysical black holes and their role in the evolution of the universe critically relies on applying a statistical analysis to a sufficiently large sample of observations,” said Dr Ulrich Sperhake, head of the group in DAMTP. “Each new detection not only strengthens our confidence in the theoretical modelling, but enables us to explore new phenomena of these mysterious and fascinating objects.”

One of the interests of the Cambridge group is testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity. “This particular source of gravitational waves is the furthest detected so far. This allows us to test our understanding of the propagation of gravitational waves across cosmological distances, by means of which we constrained any signs of wave dispersion to unprecedented precision,” said Dr Michalis Agathos, a postdoctoral researcher at DAMTP.

The LIGO-Virgo team is continuing to search the latest LIGO data for signs of space-time ripples from the far reaches of the cosmos. They are also working on technical upgrades for LIGO’s next run, scheduled to begin in late 2018, during which the detectors’ sensitivity will be further improved.

“With the third confirmed detection of gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes, LIGO is establishing itself as a powerful observatory for revealing the dark side of the universe,” said David Reitze of Caltech, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory. “While LIGO is uniquely suited to observing these types of events, we hope to see other types of astrophysical events soon, such as the violent collision of two neutron stars.”

LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and operated by MIT and Caltech, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the UK (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,000 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. LIGO partners with the Virgo Collaboration, a consortium including 280 additional scientists throughout Europe supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), and Nikhef, as well as Virgo’s host institution, the European Gravitational Observatory. Additional partners are listed at:

Results confirm new population of black holes.

Each new detection enables us to explore new phenomena of these mysterious and fascinating objects.Ulrich SperhakeLIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet)Artist's conception shows two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO.

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


LIGO’s third detection hints at how black hole binaries are born

2 June 2017 - 9:04am

The latest signal from the gravitational wave detector backs up Einstein’s theory of general relativity and gives more clues on how black holes get their spin

Mars rover sees signs of microbe-friendly layers in ancient lake

2 June 2017 - 9:03am

Curiosity’s inspection of a Martian lakebed reveals multiple environments where microbes could have thrived more than 3 billion years ago

Gravitational waves: Third detection of deep space warping

2 June 2017 - 9:01am

Scientists pick up once again the distortions in space-time resulting from a huge black hole merger.