Institute of Astronomy

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Call for nominations for the JWST user committee (JSTUC)

Astronomy News - 8 February 2017 - 9:24am
STScI has issued a call for expressions of interest from community members who would like to serve as members of the James Webb Space Telescope Users Committee (JSTUC). At least two members of JSTUC will be astronomers from ESA member states. The deadline for receipt of nominations is 14 February 2017.

Sun’s rotation is slowed down by its own photons

Astronomy News - 6 February 2017 - 9:20am

The sun's layers slow the escape of photons of sunlight, and when they finally stream away they return the favour by slowing the rotation of its outer layer

Galactic X-rays could point way to dark matter

Astronomy News - 3 February 2017 - 9:12am

A small but distinctive signal in X-rays from the Milky Way could be key to proving the existence of dark matter.

Scientists record breach in magnetic field

Astronomy News - 3 February 2017 - 9:12am

Scientists in India have recorded the events that unfolded after the Earth's magnetic shield was breached.

Vera Rubin (1928–2016)

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:38pm

Vera Rubin (1928–2016)

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). doi:10.1038/542032a

Author: Neta A. Bahcall

Observational astronomer who confirmed the existence of dark matter.

How to reach a planet 40 trillion kilometres away

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:36pm

How to reach a planet 40 trillion kilometres away

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/542020a

Author: Gabriel Popkin

A wild plan is taking shape to visit the nearest planet outside our Solar System. Here’s how we could get to Proxima b.

Astronomers explore uses for AI-generated images

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:35pm

Astronomers explore uses for AI-generated images

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/542016a

Author: Davide Castelvecchi

Neural networks produce pictures to train image-recognition programs and scientific software.

Planetary science: Pluto's dark equator explained

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:35pm

Planetary science: Pluto's dark equator explained

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). doi:10.1038/542008a

The cosmic impact that formed Pluto's moon Charon several billion years ago may also have created the dark regions seen at Pluto's equator (pictured).Scientists led by Yasuhito Sekine at the University of Tokyo ran laboratory experiments to see what might happen if a comet

Oxygen ions sent from Earth have been spotted on the moon

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:56am

Earth’s magnetic field sends streams of oxygen ions towards the moon every month – and that could give us clues to our planet’s early atmosphere

Tiny spacecraft could brake at exoplanet using alien starlight

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:55am

Lightweight solar sails could bring spacecraft to the nearest star in just 20 years – but hitting the brakes will be challenging. A new paper suggests using the stars themselves to park around their planets

Water spotted in the atmosphere of nearby hot Jupiter exoplanet

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:55am

Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of 51 Pegasi b – which lies just 50 light years away

Celestial Cat Meets Cosmic Lobster

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:52am
Astronomers have for a long time studied the glowing, cosmic clouds of gas and dust catalogued as NGC 6334 and NGC 6357, this gigantic new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope being only the most recent one. With around two billion pixels this is one of the largest images ever released by ESO. The evocative shapes of the clouds have led to their memorable names: the Cat’s Paw Nebula and the Lobster Nebula, respectively.

Mind the Gap: Rapid Burster behaviour explained

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:51am

Scientists observing a curious neutron star in a binary system known as the 'Rapid Burster' may have solved a forty-year-old mystery surrounding its puzzling X-ray bursts. They discovered that its magnetic field creates a gap around the star, largely preventing it from feeding on matter from its stellar companion. Gas builds up until, under certain conditions, it hits the neutron star all at once, producing intense flashes of X-rays. The discovery was made with space telescopes including ESA's XMM-Newton.

Cosmic lenses support finding on faster than expected expansion of the Universe [1702]

Astronomy News - 27 January 2017 - 9:34am

By using galaxies as giant gravitational lenses, an international group of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have made an independent measurement of how fast the Universe is expanding. The newly measured expansion rate for the local Universe is consistent with earlier findings. These are, however, in intriguing disagreement with measurements of the early Universe. This hints at a fundamental problem at the very heart of our understanding of the cosmos.

Ruthenium isotopic evidence for an inner Solar System origin of the late veneer

Astronomy News - 26 January 2017 - 12:59pm

Ruthenium isotopic evidence for an inner Solar System origin of the late veneer

Nature 541, 7638 (2017). doi:10.1038/nature21045

Authors: Mario Fischer-Gödde & Thorsten Kleine

The excess of highly siderophile elements in the Earth’s mantle is thought to reflect the addition of primitive meteoritic material after core formation ceased. This ‘late veneer’ either comprises material remaining in the terrestrial planet region after the main stages of the Earth’s accretion, or derives from more distant asteroidal or cometary sources. Distinguishing between these disparate origins is important because a late veneer consisting of carbonaceous chondrite-like asteroids or comets could be the principal source of the Earth’s volatiles and water. Until now, however, a ‘genetic’ link between the late veneer and such volatile-rich materials has not been established or ruled out. Such genetic links can be determined using ruthenium (Ru) isotopes, because the Ru in the Earth’s mantle predominantly derives from the late veneer, and because meteorites exhibit Ru isotope variations arising from the heterogeneous distribution of stellar-derived dust. Although Ru isotopic data and the correlation of Ru and molybdenum (Mo) isotope anomalies in meteorites were previously used to argue that the late veneer derives from the same type of inner Solar System material as do Earth’s main building blocks, the Ru isotopic composition of carbonaceous chondrites has not been determined sufficiently well to rule them out as a source of the late veneer. Here we show that all chondrites, including carbonaceous chondrites, have Ru isotopic compositions distinct from that of the Earth’s mantle. The Ru isotope anomalies increase from enstatite to ordinary to carbonaceous chondrites, demonstrating that material formed at greater heliocentric distance contains larger Ru isotope anomalies. Therefore, these data refute an outer Solar System origin for the late veneer and imply that the late veneer was not the primary source of volatiles and water on the Earth.

Astrophysics: Odd dwarf star is a pulsar

Astronomy News - 26 January 2017 - 12:52pm

Astrophysics: Odd dwarf star is a pulsar

Nature 541, 7638 (2017). doi:10.1038/541439e

Strongly magnetized stars that shoot beams of radiation from their poles, called pulsars, have previously always been identified as dense neutron stars. But researchers now report the discovery of a pulsar that is a white dwarf — the spent remnant of a star like the

Axions: Detecting particles of dark matter

Astronomy News - 26 January 2017 - 12:52pm

Axions: Detecting particles of dark matter

Nature 541, 7638 (2017). doi:10.1038/541464d

Authors: Jihn E. Kim, Pierre Sikivie & Steven Weinberg

Your article on the Axion Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX) suggests that the lattice quantum chromodynamics (QCD) calculation by S. Borsanyi et al. (Nature539, 69–71;10.1038\nature201152016) might be bad news for the ADMX because it could place

Hit threatening asteroids’ bright spots to deflect them

Astronomy News - 26 January 2017 - 12:51pm

Paler, softer rock is the best target if we want to knock incoming asteroids off course, suggests a study of the Chelyabinsk meteor that blew up over Russia

NASA Remembers Its Fallen Heroes, 50th Anniversary of Apollo 1 Accident

Astronomy News - 26 January 2017 - 12:49pm
NASA will honor members of the NASA family, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery during the agency's annual Day of Remembrance on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

Plasma tidal wave may tell us if black holes destroy information

Astronomy News - 25 January 2017 - 9:43am

Physicists have long puzzled over whether black holes destroy information or conserve it – now a proposed lab experiment could use a plasma wave to find out