Institute of Astronomy

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Glass from nuclear test site shows the moon was born dry

Astronomy News - 9 February 2017 - 10:07am

Examining residue from the first detonation of a nuclear weapon has helped explain why the moon seems to have so few volatile elements like water and methane

Gravitational wave detector prepares to peer into bizarre stars

Astronomy News - 8 February 2017 - 9:26am

It has already made the discovery of the decade – next LIGO aims to model weird events so we can recognise them when they arrive

Starlight test shows quantum world has been weird for 600 years

Astronomy News - 8 February 2017 - 9:26am

Unknown physics that could undermine quantum theory has been ruled out in a measurement guided by starlight emitted at least six centuries ago

First Euclid flight hardware delivered

Astronomy News - 8 February 2017 - 9:24am
An important milestone has been passed in the development of Euclid, a pioneering ESA mission to observe billions of faint galaxies and investigate the nature of dark matter and dark energy. The first flight hardware, in the form of four detectors known as Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs), has been delivered to Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) by UK company e2v. The remaining flight CCDs (36 in total) for the visible imager (VIS) will be delivered to MSSL by June.

Call for nominations for the JWST user committee (JSTUC)

Astronomy News - 8 February 2017 - 9:24am
STScI has issued a call for expressions of interest from community members who would like to serve as members of the James Webb Space Telescope Users Committee (JSTUC). At least two members of JSTUC will be astronomers from ESA member states. The deadline for receipt of nominations is 14 February 2017.

Sun’s rotation is slowed down by its own photons

Astronomy News - 6 February 2017 - 9:20am

The sun's layers slow the escape of photons of sunlight, and when they finally stream away they return the favour by slowing the rotation of its outer layer

Galactic X-rays could point way to dark matter

Astronomy News - 3 February 2017 - 9:12am

A small but distinctive signal in X-rays from the Milky Way could be key to proving the existence of dark matter.

Scientists record breach in magnetic field

Astronomy News - 3 February 2017 - 9:12am

Scientists in India have recorded the events that unfolded after the Earth's magnetic shield was breached.

Vera Rubin (1928–2016)

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:38pm

Vera Rubin (1928–2016)

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). doi:10.1038/542032a

Author: Neta A. Bahcall

Observational astronomer who confirmed the existence of dark matter.

How to reach a planet 40 trillion kilometres away

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:36pm

How to reach a planet 40 trillion kilometres away

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/542020a

Author: Gabriel Popkin

A wild plan is taking shape to visit the nearest planet outside our Solar System. Here’s how we could get to Proxima b.

Astronomers explore uses for AI-generated images

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:35pm

Astronomers explore uses for AI-generated images

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/542016a

Author: Davide Castelvecchi

Neural networks produce pictures to train image-recognition programs and scientific software.

Planetary science: Pluto's dark equator explained

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 1:35pm

Planetary science: Pluto's dark equator explained

Nature 542, 7639 (2017). doi:10.1038/542008a

The cosmic impact that formed Pluto's moon Charon several billion years ago may also have created the dark regions seen at Pluto's equator (pictured).Scientists led by Yasuhito Sekine at the University of Tokyo ran laboratory experiments to see what might happen if a comet

Oxygen ions sent from Earth have been spotted on the moon

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:56am

Earth’s magnetic field sends streams of oxygen ions towards the moon every month – and that could give us clues to our planet’s early atmosphere

Tiny spacecraft could brake at exoplanet using alien starlight

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:55am

Lightweight solar sails could bring spacecraft to the nearest star in just 20 years – but hitting the brakes will be challenging. A new paper suggests using the stars themselves to park around their planets

Water spotted in the atmosphere of nearby hot Jupiter exoplanet

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:55am

Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of 51 Pegasi b – which lies just 50 light years away

Celestial Cat Meets Cosmic Lobster

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:52am
Astronomers have for a long time studied the glowing, cosmic clouds of gas and dust catalogued as NGC 6334 and NGC 6357, this gigantic new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope being only the most recent one. With around two billion pixels this is one of the largest images ever released by ESO. The evocative shapes of the clouds have led to their memorable names: the Cat’s Paw Nebula and the Lobster Nebula, respectively.

Mind the Gap: Rapid Burster behaviour explained

Astronomy News - 2 February 2017 - 9:51am

Scientists observing a curious neutron star in a binary system known as the 'Rapid Burster' may have solved a forty-year-old mystery surrounding its puzzling X-ray bursts. They discovered that its magnetic field creates a gap around the star, largely preventing it from feeding on matter from its stellar companion. Gas builds up until, under certain conditions, it hits the neutron star all at once, producing intense flashes of X-rays. The discovery was made with space telescopes including ESA's XMM-Newton.

Cosmic lenses support finding on faster than expected expansion of the Universe [1702]

Astronomy News - 27 January 2017 - 9:34am

By using galaxies as giant gravitational lenses, an international group of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have made an independent measurement of how fast the Universe is expanding. The newly measured expansion rate for the local Universe is consistent with earlier findings. These are, however, in intriguing disagreement with measurements of the early Universe. This hints at a fundamental problem at the very heart of our understanding of the cosmos.