Institute of Astronomy

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Gravity space mission passes big test

Astronomy News - 9 June 2016 - 9:03am

The Lisa Pathfinder mission, which was designed to demonstrate the technologies needed to detect gravitational waves in space, has been a stunning success, say officials.

Hubble finds Universe may be expanding faster than expected [heic1611]

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:15am

Astronomers have used Hubble to measure the distances to stars in nineteen galaxies more accurately than previously possible. They found that the Universe is currently expanding faster than the rate derived from measurements of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang. If confirmed, this apparent inconsistency may be an important clue to understanding three of the Universe's most elusive components: dark matter, dark energy and neutrinos.

Mars Webcam goes pro

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:14am

A modest 'webcam' on Mars Express has proven useful for outreach, education and citizen-science. Now ESA have decided to adopt it as a professional science instrument.

NASA's Hubble Finds Universe Is Expanding Faster Than Expected

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:13am

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When astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered nearly 100 years ago that the universe was uniformly expanding in all directions, the finding was a big surprise. Then, in the mid-1990s, another shocker occurred: astronomers found that the expansion rate was accelerating perhaps due to a repulsive property called "dark energy." Now, the latest measurements of our runaway universe suggest that it is expanding faster than astronomers thought. The consequences could be very significant for our understanding of the shadowy contents of our unruly universe. It may mean that dark energy is shoving galaxies away from each other with even greater or growing strength. Or, the early cosmos may contain a new type of subatomic particle referred to as "dark radiation." A third possibility is that "dark matter," an invisible form of matter that makes up the bulk of our universe, possesses some weird, unexpected characteristics. Finally, Einstein's theory of gravity may be incomplete.

Why is the universe expanding 9 per cent faster than we thought?

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:11am

Two ways of measuring how quickly the universe is flying apart come up with increasingly different numbers. Are our measurements wrong, or is physics?

Red and Golden Planets at Opposition

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:10am

Mars and Saturn are getting together in the constellation Scorpius for back-to-back oppositions in May and June 2016.

Astronomers probe below Jupiter's clouds

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:09am

US astronomers have managed to peer deep into the atmosphere of Jupiter using a radio telescope here on Earth.

Hubble clocks faster cosmic expansion

Astronomy News - 6 June 2016 - 10:09am

The Universe may be expanding up to 9% faster than previously thought, according to new measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomy: Cosmic detectives

Astronomy News - 2 June 2016 - 11:06am

Astronomy: Cosmic detectives

Nature 534, 7605 (2016). doi:10.1038/534034a

Author: Bernie Fanaroff

Bernie Fanaroff surveys a study that probes telescopes in history and across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Astronomy: Galaxy from the cosmic dark ages

Astronomy News - 2 June 2016 - 11:05am

Astronomy: Galaxy from the cosmic dark ages

Nature 534, 7605 (2016). doi:10.1038/534008b

Astronomers have found the faintest example yet of a galaxy from the early Universe.Kuang-Han Huang of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues spotted the 13-billion-year-old galaxy using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Hubble Space Telescope. A cluster of galaxies in

Asteroids 'dumped water in molten Moon'

Astronomy News - 1 June 2016 - 9:20am

Water found deep in the Moon was delivered when icy asteroids splashed into magma oceans 4.3 billion years ago, a study suggests.

Rosetta's comet contains ingredients for life

Astronomy News - 31 May 2016 - 9:37am

Ingredients regarded as crucial for the origin of life on Earth have been discovered at the comet that ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has been probing for almost two years.

Alma telescope peers into space

Astronomy News - 31 May 2016 - 9:34am

Alma telescope peers into space from Chile

Rare cosmic balancing act makes Perseid meteor showers brighter

Astronomy News - 27 May 2016 - 4:09pm

The gravitational pulls of Saturn and Jupiter may make meteor showers more spectacular, and could explain 1993's "night of the howling dogs"

ESO Signs Largest Ever Ground-based Astronomy Contract for E-ELT Dome and Telescope Structure

Astronomy News - 26 May 2016 - 9:31am
At a ceremony in Garching bei München, Germany on 25 May 2016, ESO signed the contract with the ACe Consortium, consisting of Astaldi, Cimolai and the nominated sub-contractor EIE Group, for the construction of the dome and telescope structure of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). This is the largest contract ever awarded by ESO and also the largest contract ever in ground-based astronomy. This occasion saw the unveiling of the construction design of the E-ELT. Construction of the dome and telescope structure will now commence.

Bloated baby black holes spotted in the distant universe

Astronomy News - 26 May 2016 - 9:30am

Two blobs detected in the distant, ancient universe may be the seeds of the supermassive black holes that now dominate every galaxy

A resonant chain of four transiting, sub-Neptune planets

Astronomy News - 26 May 2016 - 9:28am

A resonant chain of four transiting, sub-Neptune planets

Nature 533, 7604 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature17445

Authors: Sean M. Mills, Daniel C. Fabrycky, Cezary Migaszewski, Eric B. Ford, Erik Petigura & Howard Isaacson

Surveys have revealed many multi-planet systems containing super-Earths and Neptunes in orbits of a few days to a few months. There is debate whether in situ assembly or inward migration is the dominant mechanism of the formation of such planetary systems. Simulations suggest that migration creates tightly packed systems with planets whose orbital periods may be expressed as ratios of small integers (resonances), often in a many-planet series (chain). In the hundreds of multi-planet systems of sub-Neptunes, more planet pairs are observed near resonances than would generally be expected, but no individual system has hitherto been identified that must have been formed by migration. Proximity to resonance enables the detection of planets perturbing each other. Here we report transit timing variations of the four planets in the Kepler-223 system, model these variations as resonant-angle librations, and compute the long-term stability of the resonant chain. The architecture of Kepler-223 is too finely tuned to have been formed by scattering, and our numerical simulations demonstrate that its properties are natural outcomes of the migration hypothesis. Similar systems could be destabilized by any of several mechanisms, contributing to the observed orbital-period distribution, where many planets are not in resonances. Planetesimal interactions in particular are thought to be responsible for establishing the current orbits of the four giant planets in the Solar System by disrupting a theoretical initial resonant chain similar to that observed in Kepler-223.

Suppressing star formation in quiescent galaxies with supermassive black hole winds

Astronomy News - 26 May 2016 - 9:28am

Suppressing star formation in quiescent galaxies with supermassive black hole winds

Nature 533, 7604 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature18006

Authors: Edmond Cheung, Kevin Bundy, Michele Cappellari, Sébastien Peirani, Wiphu Rujopakarn, Kyle Westfall, Renbin Yan, Matthew Bershady, Jenny E. Greene, Timothy M. Heckman, Niv Drory, David R. Law, Karen L. Masters, Daniel Thomas, David A. Wake, Anne-Marie Weijmans, Kate Rubin, Francesco Belfiore, Benedetta Vulcani, Yan-mei Chen, Kai Zhang, Joseph D. Gelfand, Dmitry Bizyaev, A. Roman-Lopes & Donald P. Schneider

Quiescent galaxies with little or no ongoing star formation dominate the population of galaxies with masses above 2 × 1010 times that of the Sun; the number of quiescent galaxies has increased by a factor of about 25 over the past ten billion years (refs 1, 2, 3, 4). Once star formation has been shut down, perhaps during the quasar phase of rapid accretion onto a supermassive black hole, an unknown mechanism must remove or heat the gas that is subsequently accreted from either stellar mass loss or mergers and that would otherwise cool to form stars. Energy output from a black hole accreting at a low rate has been proposed, but observational evidence for this in the form of expanding hot gas shells is indirect and limited to radio galaxies at the centres of clusters, which are too rare to explain the vast majority of the quiescent population. Here we report bisymmetric emission features co-aligned with strong ionized-gas velocity gradients from which we infer the presence of centrally driven winds in typical quiescent galaxies that host low-luminosity active nuclei. These galaxies are surprisingly common, accounting for as much as ten per cent of the quiescent population with masses around 2 × 1010 times that of the Sun. In a prototypical example, we calculate that the energy input from the galaxy’s low-level active supermassive black hole is capable of driving the observed wind, which contains sufficient mechanical energy to heat ambient, cooler gas (also detected) and thereby suppress star formation.

Astrophysics: How black holes restrain old galaxies

Astronomy News - 26 May 2016 - 9:27am

Astrophysics: How black holes restrain old galaxies

Nature 533, 7604 (2016). doi:10.1038/533473a

Authors: Marc Sarzi

Supermassive black holes are thought to keep star formation under control by ejecting or stirring gas in galaxies. Observations of an old galaxy reveal a potential mechanism for how this process occurs. See Letter p.504

Physics: Invest in neutrino astronomy

Astronomy News - 26 May 2016 - 9:26am

Physics: Invest in neutrino astronomy

Nature 533, 7604 (2016). doi:10.1038/533462a

Author: Spencer Klein

Spencer Klein calls for bigger telescope arrays to catch particles from the most energetic places in the Universe.