Institute of Astronomy

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Famous Wow! signal might have been from comets, not aliens

Astronomy News - 12 January 2016 - 9:40am

A powerful radio signal from space has puzzled astronomers for decades and led to talk of alien signals, but now there might be a more mundane explanation

Philae lander fails to respond to last-ditch efforts to wake it

Astronomy News - 12 January 2016 - 9:40am

A signal sent to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last night received no response, suggesting the famous space lander has reached the end of its life

AUDIO: How to take a picture of a black hole

Astronomy News - 11 January 2016 - 9:31am

Astronomer Feryal Ozel speaks to the BBC's Jonathan Webb about the Event Horizon Telescope.

'Age map' traces galactic history

Astronomy News - 11 January 2016 - 9:30am
By measuring the age of 70,000 stars across the Milky Way, astronomers make a "growth chart" for our galaxy.

Comet dust 'ballistics' probed in 3D

Astronomy News - 11 January 2016 - 9:29am
Scientists make microscopic 3D maps of the tracks carved by comet dust when a Nasa spacecraft collected samples in blocks of gel.

NASA's Great Observatories Weigh Massive Young Galaxy Cluster

Astronomy News - 8 January 2016 - 9:15am

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Astronomers have made the most detailed study yet of an extremely massive young galaxy cluster using three of NASA's Great Observatories. This multiwavelength image shows this galaxy cluster, called IDCS J1426.5+3508 (IDCS 1426 for short), in X-rays recorded by the Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, visible light observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in green, and infrared light from the Spitzer Space Telescope in red.

Event horizon snapshot due in 2017

Astronomy News - 8 January 2016 - 9:13am

A global network of nine radio telescopes is set to take the first ever picture of a black hole's event horizon in 2017.

NASA's Spitzer, Hubble Find 'Twins' of Superstar Eta Carinae in Other Galaxies

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:49pm

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Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system located within 10,000 light-years of Earth, is best known for an enormous eruption seen in the mid-19th century that hurled an amount of material at least 10 times the sun's mass into space. Still shrouded by this expanding veil of gas and dust, Eta Carinae is the only object of its kind known in our galaxy. Now a study using archival data from NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes has found five similar objects in other galaxies for the first time.

Bow waves betray runaway stars

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:48pm

Researchers identify dozens of fast-moving stars in the Milky Way by combing the galaxy for the curved waves of material they plough before them.

Star clumps 'good bet for alien life'

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:48pm

Two astronomers argue that ancient, dense clusters of stars at the fringe of the Milky Way are a good bet in the search for alien intelligence.

Star clusters could host long-lived technological civilisations

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:47pm

We've been too quick to dismiss globular clusters of old stars as hosts of life. Old, interstellar extraterrestrials could exist there

Migrating giant planets might eat their own life-friendly moons

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:46pm

We're actively searching for exomoons – which orbit planets around other stars – without luck. Maybe that's because they didn't survive

Cosmology: Rare isotopic insight into the Universe

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:45pm

Cosmology: Rare isotopic insight into the Universe

Nature 529, 7584 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature16326

Authors: Nikos Prantzos

Light isotopes of hydrogen and helium formed minutes after the Big Bang. The study of one of these primordial isotopes, helium-3, has now been proposed as a useful strategy for constraining the physics of the standard cosmological model.

A continuum from clear to cloudy hot-Jupiter exoplanets without primordial water depletion

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:45pm

A continuum from clear to cloudy hot-Jupiter exoplanets without primordial water depletion

Nature 529, 7584 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature16068

Authors: David K. Sing, Jonathan J. Fortney, Nikolay Nikolov, Hannah R. Wakeford, Tiffany Kataria, Thomas M. Evans, Suzanne Aigrain, Gilda E. Ballester, Adam S. Burrows, Drake Deming, Jean-Michel Désert, Neale P. Gibson, Gregory W. Henry, Catherine M. Huitson, Heather A. Knutson, Alain Lecavelier des Etangs, Frederic Pont, Adam P. Showman, Alfred Vidal-Madjar, Michael H. Williamson & Paul A. Wilson

Thousands of transiting exoplanets have been discovered, but spectral analysis of their atmospheres has so far been dominated by a small number of exoplanets and data spanning relatively narrow wavelength ranges (such as 1.1–1.7 micrometres). Recent studies show that some hot-Jupiter exoplanets have much weaker water absorption features in their near-infrared spectra than predicted. The low amplitude of water signatures could be explained by very low water abundances, which may be a sign that water was depleted in the protoplanetary disk at the planet’s formation location, but it is unclear whether this level of depletion can actually occur. Alternatively, these weak signals could be the result of obscuration by clouds or hazes, as found in some optical spectra. Here we report results from a comparative study of ten hot Jupiters covering the wavelength range 0.3–5 micrometres, which allows us to resolve both the optical scattering and infrared molecular absorption spectroscopically. Our results reveal a diverse group of hot Jupiters that exhibit a continuum from clear to cloudy atmospheres. We find that the difference between the planetary radius measured at optical and infrared wavelengths is an effective metric for distinguishing different atmosphere types. The difference correlates with the spectral strength of water, so that strong water absorption lines are seen in clear-atmosphere planets and the weakest features are associated with clouds and hazes. This result strongly suggests that primordial water depletion during formation is unlikely and that clouds and hazes are the cause of weaker spectral signatures.

Astrophysics: Why black holes pulse brightly

Astronomy News - 7 January 2016 - 4:43pm

Astrophysics: Why black holes pulse brightly

Nature 529, 7584 (2016). doi:10.1038/529028a

Authors: Poshak Gandhi

Black holes can produce oscillating outbursts of radiation that were thought to be associated with high rates of infalling matter. The observation of pulses of visible light from a black hole complicates this picture. See Letter p.54

Black hole caught 'burping' gas

Astronomy News - 6 January 2016 - 9:34am

Astronomers spy two huge waves of gas being "burped" by the black hole at the heart of a nearby galaxy.

Giant galaxy caught tearing apart its little neighbour

Astronomy News - 5 January 2016 - 8:51am

Two decades ago, astronomers caught the Milky Way shredding a dwarf galaxy. Now they've seen the same thing happening 11 million light-years away

Quantum Foam

Astronomy News - 3 January 2016 - 7:50am

Researchers have used NASA space telescopes to prove that space-time is much less "foamy" than some models predict. Understanding their result requires a trip into the weird world of quantum physics.

Advance 'can help find other worlds'

Astronomy News - 2 January 2016 - 7:13am

The pull of gravity on a distant star can now be measured more accurately, shedding light on other worlds, say astronomers.

Two missions face off to seek life in icy seas of Enceladus

Astronomy News - 31 December 2015 - 8:01am
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been sampling the plumes on Saturn's moon for a decade, with no sign of microbes. Two proposed missions hope to change that