Institute of Astronomy

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Ringed asteroid will make a star blink out over Africa

Astronomy News - 10 April 2014 - 12:19pm
The first known asteroid with Saturn-like rings will cross in front of a star this month, perhaps revealing clues to how the thin rings stay in shape

Dark matter hunters turn to nano-blasts and enzyme ice

Astronomy News - 9 April 2014 - 4:34pm
Smaller, cheaper detectors inspired by biomaterials and grenade chemistry could provide clear signs of dark matter particle strikes

Chance Meeting Creates Celestial Diamond Ring

Astronomy News - 9 April 2014 - 11:00am
Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula PN A66 33 — usually known as Abell 33. Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost circular on the sky.

Planetary science: A moon of Saturn hides an ocean

Astronomy News - 9 April 2014 - 1:00am

Planetary science: A moon of Saturn hides an ocean

Nature 508, 7495 (2014). doi:10.1038/508153a

Beneath Enceladus's south pole lies a watery ocean that could hold organic molecules that form the basis of life.Luciano Iess at the Sapienza University of Rome and his colleagues analysed gravity measurements from the Cassini spacecraft during three flybys of this moon of Saturn

Squirting moons face off in race to find alien life

Astronomy News - 8 April 2014 - 5:42pm
Europa and Enceladus both appear to spout jets of water and have buried oceans, making them attractive targets for future probes that will seek signs of life

Sun traces giant figures-of-eight in the sky

Astronomy News - 8 April 2014 - 12:00pm
A pinhole camera recorded this time-lapse image over a whole year, showing how the path of the sun across the sky traces a shape called an analemma

Critical phase in missing matter hunt

Astronomy News - 8 April 2014 - 8:09am
An experiment located at the bottom of a US gold mine could offer the best chance yet of detecting dark matter, scientists believe.

VIDEO: US dark matter hunt at critical phase

Astronomy News - 7 April 2014 - 11:55pm
The quest to find the most mysterious particles in the Universe is entering a critical phase, scientists say.

Cosmos speed-check for dark energy

Astronomy News - 7 April 2014 - 7:05pm
Scientists produce a precise measurement of the rate at which the early Universe was expanding to try to get new insights on dark energy.

Volcanic blasts hint that Mercury is a migrant planet

Astronomy News - 7 April 2014 - 5:48pm
Explosions seem to have rocked the planet Mercury for most of its existence – and that shouldn't be possible if it formed close to the sun

VIDEO: Nasa releases solar flare footage

Astronomy News - 5 April 2014 - 1:51pm
Nasa has released dramatic footage of a solar flare, captured by its Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Best dark matter signal yet hints at heftier particles

Astronomy News - 4 April 2014 - 7:23pm
Gamma rays from the Milky Way's middle are increasingly likely to be signs of dark matter, and hints of the same signal from dwarf galaxies boost the case

Smoky mass map weighs fat ancient galaxy cluster

Astronomy News - 4 April 2014 - 5:11pm
It's not something in your eye. It's not smoke from a late-night barbecue. You're looking at a map of the most massive ancient galaxy cluster ever seen

Gaia Live in School: Inspiring the next generation of European Space Scientists

Astronomy News - 4 April 2014 - 12:03pm

Students following 'Gaia Live in School' event

Will Gaia discover planets that humans would be able to live on? What is a quasar? How many people are actually working on the mission at the moment? These are just some of the varied questions that school students put to some of ESA’s Gaia experts during the Gaia Live in School Event on 25 March 2014.

More than 2000 students, mainly aged 10-12 years old, from 34 schools in 10 European countries followed a live webcast from the Gaia mission planning room at ESOC, ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Germany. This special webcast gave students a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes of the Gaia mission, with Timo Prusti, the Gaia Project Scientist, and David Milligan, the Gaia Spacecraft Operations Manager answering many of the students’ questions.

Each school participating in the Gaia Live event was linked to a leading research institute in its area. On the day of the event, two postgraduate students, the ‘Gaia Explainers’ from each institute, went into the schools to deliver lively and interactive presentations about Gaia. Hands-on demonstrations and videos introduced the school students to the mission, and to key concepts such as the Solar System, the Milky Way and parallax, to aid their understanding of the science of Gaia before linking up to the live webcast.

Thumbs up at 'Gaia Live in School' event

In the first part of the live webcast students watched David Milligan describe Gaia’s journey to its orbit about L2, a gravitational equilibrium point that is 1.5 kilometres from Earth, how the spacecraft is operated, and how data are sent to and from the satellite. Timo Prusti continued by explaining why it is important to make a 3D map of the Milky Way, how Gaia will help to reveal our Galaxy’s history, and the other exciting discoveries Gaia will make.

Timo and David then answered a range of excellent questions from the schools, which had been submitted in advance of the event. The webcast further stimulated the students’ curiosity, and even more questions for the experts came streaming in from all 34 schools to ESOC by web chat – as many as possible were answered live on air.

Following the webcast, the postgraduate students completed their sessions in the schools with another question and answer session, as well as further demonstrations and activities.

Finnish students participating in 'Gaia Live in Schools' event

In preparation for the event the postgraduate students participated in an intensive training course, held at ESTEC, where they explored how to present science concepts to groups of school students. Working together with the teachers involved at each school, the local event programmes were adapted to ensure that they were relevant for each participating school audience. The enthusiasm of the teachers helped ensure the success of the event at each school.

The event was organised as a partnership between the Gaia Research for European Astronomy Training Network (GREAT) and ESA, with many of the ‘Gaia Explainers’ being students in the GREAT Initial Training Network.


Watch the replay of the ESOC part of the Gaia Live event here.

For more information about the event and the schools taking part, visit the GREAT event web page.

Authors: Rebecca Barnes (HE Space Operations for ESA), Nicholas Walton (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge)

VIDEO: Saturn moon hides 'great lake'

Astronomy News - 3 April 2014 - 10:58pm
The evidence for an ocean of water under the surface of one of Saturn's moons is overwhelming, according to scientists. Pallab Ghosh reports.

Deep Ocean Detected Inside Saturn's Moon

Astronomy News - 3 April 2014 - 10:21pm
NASA's Cassini spacecraft and Deep Space Network have uncovered evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus harbors a large underground ocean of liquid water, furthering scientific interest in the moon as a potential home to extraterrestrial microbes.

Saturn moon hides 'great lake'

Astronomy News - 3 April 2014 - 7:33pm
New measurements by Nasa's Cassini probe suggest Saturn's moon Enceladus hides a mass of liquid water as big as Lake Superior under its icy surface.

Hubble Finds That Monster 'El Gordo' Galaxy Cluster Is Bigger Than Thought

Astronomy News - 3 April 2014 - 7:00pm

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If someone told you there was an object in space called "El Gordo" (Spanish for "the fat one") you might imagine some kind of planet-eating monster straight out of a science fiction movie. The nickname refers to a monstrous cluster of galaxies that is being viewed at a time when the universe was just half of its current age of 13.8 billion years. This is an object of superlatives. It contains several hundred galaxies swarming around under a collective gravitational pull. The total mass of the cluster, and refined in new Hubble measurements, is estimated to be as much as 3 million billion stars like our Sun (about 3,000 times more massive than our own Milky Way galaxy) though most of the mass is hidden away as dark matter. The cluster may be so huge because it is the result of a titanic collision and merger between two separate galaxy clusters. Thankfully, our Milky Way galaxy grew up in an uncluttered backwater region of the universe.

Cassini-Huygens:Icy moon Enceladus has underground sea

Astronomy News - 3 April 2014 - 7:00pm
Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has an underground sea of liquid water, according to the international Cassini spacecraft.

Buried 'Lake Superior' seen on Saturn's moon Enceladus

Astronomy News - 3 April 2014 - 7:00pm
Gravity readings suggest that the jets Enceladus spits out come from a deep ocean in contact with a rocky core, raising hopes that the moon hosts life