Institute of Astronomy

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Hubble Finds Supernova Companion Star after Two Decades of Searching

Astronomy News - 9 September 2014 - 5:00pm
Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered a companion star to a rare type of supernova.

No easy parking spot for first-ever comet landing

Astronomy News - 9 September 2014 - 4:25pm
High-res images from the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft show its target comet is covered in cliffs – great for science but scary for landing

Scientists Find Evidence of ‘Diving’ Tectonic Plates on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Astronomy News - 8 September 2014 - 5:00pm
Scientists have found evidence of plate tectonics on Jupiter’s moon Europa. This indicates the first sign of this type of surface-shifting geological activity on a world other than Earth.

Europa's icy plate tectonics may support life

Astronomy News - 8 September 2014 - 1:18pm
Jupiter's moon Europa may be the first world other than Earth to sport plate tectonics, only above its ocean instead of below

AUDIO: Meteorite strikes Nicaragua

Astronomy News - 8 September 2014 - 12:15pm
A meteorite that landed near the Nicaraguan capital Managua on Sunday could have come from the 2014 RC asteroid which was passing the earth at the time, experts have said.

Meteorite lands in Nicaragua capital

Astronomy News - 8 September 2014 - 10:19am
A small meteorite which may have broken off an asteroid caused a 12m-wide crater near Managua's international airport, Nicaraguan officials say.

Plate tectonics found on Europa

Astronomy News - 7 September 2014 - 1:00am

Plate tectonics found on Europa

Nature 513, 7517 (2014).

Author: Alexandra Witze

Discovery buoys bid for mission to Jovian moon.

Rosetta Comet is Darker than Charcoal

Astronomy News - 5 September 2014 - 8:48pm
A NASA instrument onboard Europe's Rosetta spacecraft has shown that the core of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is unusually dark--darker than charcoal-black--when viewed at ultraviolet wavelengths.

Small Asteroid to Safely Pass Close … to Earth Sunday

Astronomy News - 5 September 2014 - 8:11am
A small asteroid, designated 2014 RC, will safely pass very close to Earth on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. At the time of closest approach, based on current calculations to be about 2:18 p.m. EDT (11:18 a.m. PDT / 18:18 UTC), the asteroid will be roughly over New Zealand.

NASA Instrument aboard European Spacecraft Returns First Science Results

Astronomy News - 4 September 2014 - 5:00pm
A NASA instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA's) Rosetta orbiter has successfully made its first delivery of science data from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Chameleons and holograms: Dark energy hunt gets weird

Astronomy News - 3 September 2014 - 6:00pm
Three ingenious experiments are duking it out to solve the mystery of whether dark energy exists and how it might be accelerating the universe's growth

Cosmic Forecast: Dark Clouds Will Give Way to Sunshine

Astronomy News - 3 September 2014 - 11:00am
Lupus 4, a spider-shaped blob of gas and dust, blots out background stars like a dark cloud on a moonless night in this intriguing new image. Although gloomy for now, dense pockets of material within clouds such as Lupus 4 are where new stars form and where they will later burst into radiant life. The Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile captured this new picture.

Heavenly homes

Astronomy News - 3 September 2014 - 1:00am

Heavenly homes

Nature 513, 7516 (2014). doi:10.1038/513006a

The discovery of our Galaxy’s place in the Universe adds detail to our address.

Cosmology: Meet the Laniakea supercluster

Astronomy News - 3 September 2014 - 1:00am

Cosmology: Meet the Laniakea supercluster

Nature 513, 7516 (2014). doi:10.1038/513041a

Authors: Elmo Tempel

An analysis of a three-dimensional map of galaxies and their velocities reveals the hitherto unknown edges of the large system of galaxies in which we live — dubbed the Laniakea supercluster. See Letter p.71

The Laniakea supercluster of galaxies

Astronomy News - 3 September 2014 - 1:00am

The Laniakea supercluster of galaxies

Nature 513, 7516 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13674

Authors: R. Brent Tully, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman & Daniel Pomarède

Galaxies congregate in clusters and along filaments, and are missing from large regions referred to as voids. These structures are seen in maps derived from spectroscopic surveys that reveal networks of structure that are interconnected with no clear boundaries. Extended regions with a high concentration of galaxies are called ‘superclusters’, although this term is not precise. There is, however, another way to analyse the structure. If the distance to each galaxy from Earth is directly measured, then the peculiar velocity can be derived from the subtraction of the mean cosmic expansion, the product of distance times the Hubble constant, from observed velocity. The peculiar velocity is the line-of-sight departure from the cosmic expansion and arises from gravitational perturbations; a map of peculiar velocities can be translated into a map of the distribution of matter. Here we report a map of structure made using a catalogue of peculiar velocities. We find locations where peculiar velocity flows diverge, as water does at watershed divides, and we trace the surface of divergent points that surrounds us. Within the volume enclosed by this surface, the motions of galaxies are inward after removal of the mean cosmic expansion and long range flows. We define a supercluster to be the volume within such a surface, and so we are defining the extent of our home supercluster, which we call Laniakea.

Rosetta set for 'capture' manoeuvres

Astronomy News - 2 September 2014 - 6:38pm
The Rosetta probe is about to begin the manoeuvres that will take it properly into orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

NASA Invites Public to Submit Messages for Asteroid Mission Time Capsule

Astronomy News - 2 September 2014 - 5:00pm
NASA is inviting the worldwide public to submit short messages and images on social media that could be placed in a time capsule aboard a spacecraft launching to an asteroid in 2016.

Titan's subsurface reservoirs modify methane rainfall

Astronomy News - 1 September 2014 - 3:07pm
The international Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan, mostly in its polar regions. These lakes are filled not with water but with hydrocarbons, a form of organic compound that is also found naturally on Earth and includes methane. While most of the liquid in the lakes is thought to be replenished by rainfall from clouds in the moon's atmosphere, the cycling of liquid throughout Titan's crust and atmosphere is still not well understood.

Gaia in your pocket – mapping the Galaxy with the new Gaia app

Astronomy News - 1 September 2014 - 2:08pm

Mapping one billion stars in our Galaxy may seem like an impossible feat, but that’s exactly what ESA’s Gaia mission aims to do, with the ultimate goal of creating the largest, most precise 3D map of our Galaxy ever made. And now you can follow the mission’s progress with a new app created by the University of Barcelona. Being able to track the progress of this groundbreaking mission via your iPhone, iPad or iPod means the stars have never been closer!

Screenshot of Gaia App

The Gaia Mission app is a must-have for space enthusiasts and novices alike. Beautiful images, interactive diagrams, and videos of the satellite explain many aspects of this star-mapping mission, and clear instructions and demos are available for every feature of the app. For more experienced stargazers there is a host of in-depth information available for each section, accessed by simply swiping the page.

Screenshot of Gaia App

The app has interactive diagrams of the spacecraft and payload that can be moved 360˚, letting you explore inside the Gaia satellite, and by tapping on the highlighted regions of the diagrams you’ll find clear information about each component. The trajectory of the satellite and the distance from Earth can be followed via the mission status page, and you can track how much data has been acquired and processed on the mission operations page. Live news updates will ensure that you are among the first to know about any exciting new discoveries!

This is not the first time a satellite has been sent to map the stars. Back in 1989 the ESA Hipparcos mission charted over 120,000 objects, which formed the basis of a huge stellar catalogue. The Gaia mission will greatly improve on this achievement, as it will measure the position and motion of stars with a much higher level of accuracy. The number of stars observed during this five-year mission will increase to over one billion, resulting in the most precise three-dimensional map of our Galaxy ever created. Over the course of the mission, one petabyte (one million gigabytes) of digital information will be sent to the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium for analysis and for cataloguing - that’s enough to fill over 1.5 million CD ROMs!

Screenshot of Gaia App

The Gaia satellite orbits the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, known as L2. There, at a distance of 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth, Gaia will have excellent views of the Galaxy, free of any eclipses and in stable thermal conditions. Scanning the sky as it rotates on its axis, Gaia will view each star about 70 times, allowing a great deal of information to be collected about each and every one. The Gaia Mission app will give updates on many of Gaia’s activities, from the moment it was launched on 19 December 2013, until the final catalogue is published in 2022.

As Carme Jordi, from the team at the University of Barcelona who developed the app explains: “With Gaia, we will be able to see the entire history of the Milky Way unfolding before our eyes.”

“Gaia has so many interesting aspects – from our view of the Universe, to the life cycles of stars and the detection of exoplanets. With the app you can learn the basics of all of these things and then see how the mission builds up a new picture for us all.”

Screenshot of Gaia App

The team hopes to add more interactive features to the app over the coming months. These could also be interesting for students in second and third level education. “There are different levels within the app,” says Marcial Clotet, the engineer who first came up with the idea for the app. “Those who want to can go through the various levels and find really in-depth information to correspond to their level of interest”.

“Humans have been mapping the stars for centuries, but there is still a great deal to find out with the Gaia mission,” continues Marcial. “Many of the people who made star maps could only dream of being able to observe from space; now, not only can we do it, we can share the adventure in real time.”

The app was created by the University of Barcelona and is available for free from the iTunes store in English, Spanish and Catalan. The University of Barcelona team is now working on the Android version, which will be available later this year.

This project was co-financed by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology - Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.