Institute of Astronomy

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New Herschel maps and catalogues reveal stellar nurseries across the Galactic Plane

Astronomy News - 25 April 2016 - 9:19am

ESA's Herschel mission releases today a series of unprecedented maps of star-forming hubs in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. This is accompanied by a set of catalogues listing hundreds of thousands of compact sources that span all phases leading to the birth of stars in our Galaxy. These maps and catalogues will be very valuable resources for astronomers, to exploit scientifically and for planning follow-up studies of particularly interesting regions in the Galactic Plane.

First direct evidence of ancient Mars’s oxygen-rich atmosphere

Astronomy News - 25 April 2016 - 9:18am

Suspicions that Mars once had oxygen-rich air are backed by the NASA Curiosity rover's find of manganese oxide in surface rocks

Earth’s core is two-and-a-half years younger than its crust

Astronomy News - 25 April 2016 - 9:18am

We have long known that gravity makes the Earth's centre age more slowly than its surface – but the effect is much more pronounced than once thought

Hubble telescope catches stunning picture of the Bubble Nebula

Astronomy News - 22 April 2016 - 9:36am

NASA’s largest space observatory has taken a striking picture of a giant cosmic bubble to celebrate being in orbit for 26 years

Hubble captures birthday bubble [heic1608]

Astronomy News - 22 April 2016 - 9:18am

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released to celebrate Hubble's 26th year in orbit, captures in stunning clarity what looks like a gigantic cosmic soap bubble. The object, known as the Bubble Nebula, is in fact a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the brilliant star within it. The vivid new portrait of this dramatic scene wins the Bubble Nebula a place in the exclusive Hubble hall of fame, following an impressive lineage of Hubble anniversary images.

Hubble Sees a Star 'Inflating' a Giant Bubble

Astronomy News - 22 April 2016 - 9:18am

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Twenty-six candles grace NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's birthday cake this year, and now one giant space "balloon" will add to the festivities. Just in time for the 26th anniversary of Hubble's launch on April 24, 1990, the telescope has photographed an enormous, balloon-like bubble being blown into space by a super-hot, massive star. Astronomers trained the iconic telescope on this colorful feature, called the Bubble Nebula, or NGC 7635. The bubble is 7 light-years across about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. The Bubble Nebula lies 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

A 17-billion-solar-mass black hole in a group galaxy with a diffuse core

Astronomy News - 21 April 2016 - 9:51am

A 17-billion-solar-mass black hole in a group galaxy with a diffuse core

Nature 532, 7599 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature17197

Authors: Jens Thomas, Chung-Pei Ma, Nicholas J. McConnell, Jenny E. Greene, John P. Blakeslee & Ryan Janish

Quasars are associated with and powered by the accretion of material onto massive black holes; the detection of highly luminous quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 suggests that black holes of up to ten billion solar masses already existed 13 billion years ago. Two possible present-day ‘dormant’ descendants of this population of ‘active’ black holes have been found in the galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 at the centres of the Leo and Coma galaxy clusters, which together form the central region of the Great Wall—the largest local structure of galaxies. The most luminous quasars, however, are not confined to such high-density regions of the early Universe; yet dormant black holes of this high mass have not yet been found outside of modern-day rich clusters. Here we report observations of the stellar velocity distribution in the galaxy NGC 1600—a relatively isolated elliptical galaxy near the centre of a galaxy group at a distance of 64 megaparsecs from Earth. We use orbit superposition models to determine that the black hole at the centre of NGC 1600 has a mass of 17 billion solar masses. The spatial distribution of stars near the centre of NGC 1600 is rather diffuse. We find that the region of depleted stellar density in the cores of massive elliptical galaxies extends over the same radius as the gravitational sphere of influence of the central black holes, and interpret this as the dynamical imprint of the black holes.

Astronomy: Spinning black holes align

Astronomy News - 21 April 2016 - 9:50am

Astronomy: Spinning black holes align

Nature 532, 7599 (2016). doi:10.1038/532284b

Black holes at the cores of galaxies tend to spin in the same direction.This unexpected result comes from a survey of 65 galaxies in the same patch of sky by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope near Pune in India. Andrew Russ Taylor and Preshanth

Calling all artists: apply now for art and science residency

Astronomy News - 21 April 2016 - 9:36am

ESA, in partnership with Ars Electronica, is announcing art&science@ESA, a new art residency to explore the fertile ground between art and space science.

Dusty doughnut around massive black hole spied for first time

Astronomy News - 21 April 2016 - 9:35am

The bright discs of gas around a galaxy’s central black hole are thought to be obscured by a torus of dust. We’ve now seen one directly

NASA’s Dawn probe may visit third asteroid after Ceres and Vesta

Astronomy News - 21 April 2016 - 9:34am

The team behind Dawn, the first ever asteroid-hopping spacecraft, have asked NASA for permission to extend its mission to a third destination  

Venus Express' swansong experiment sheds light on Venus' polar atmosphere

Astronomy News - 20 April 2016 - 9:26am

Some of the final results sent back by ESA's Venus Express before it plummeted down through the planet's atmosphere have revealed it to be rippling with atmospheric waves – and, at an average temperature of -157°C, colder than anywhere on Earth.

We are closing in on possible whereabouts of Planet Nine

Astronomy News - 20 April 2016 - 9:25am

The hunt for Planet Nine heats up as a new analysis of the Cassini spacecraft's data narrows down the orbit of the potential planet at the edge of the solar system

Scientists set eyes on ice moon Europa

Astronomy News - 20 April 2016 - 9:23am

European scientists are meeting in Paris to consider their best option for exploring Europa, the moon of Jupiter widely regarded as the most likely place beyond Earth to support microbial life.

Gravitational wave hunters gear up to detect extreme black holes

Astronomy News - 19 April 2016 - 9:29am

The LIGO experiment only recently made the first sighting of gravitational waves, but already the team is preparing for their next feat

Water telescope’s first sky map shows flickering black holes

Astronomy News - 19 April 2016 - 9:29am

The High Altitude Water Cherenkov observatory has released its first map of the high-energy sky, catching pulsars, supernova remnants and blazars switching on and off

Gravity mission passes 'sanity check'

Astronomy News - 19 April 2016 - 9:28am

A European Space Agency effort to try to detect gravitational waves in space is not only technically feasible but compelling, a new report finds.

Saturn probe Cassini hoovers up dust from distant stars

Astronomy News - 18 April 2016 - 9:23am

A rare haul of interstellar dust was picked up in orbit around Saturn, and could give us clues to how the solar system formed from the remnants of other stars  

Interstellar dust intercepted at Saturn

Astronomy News - 15 April 2016 - 9:13am

The international Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from outside our Solar System.

Saturn probe Cassini hoovers up dust from distant stars

Astronomy News - 15 April 2016 - 9:12am

A rare haul of interstellar dust was picked up in orbit around Saturn, and could give us clues to how the solar system formed from the remnants of other stars