Institute of Astronomy

News and Press Releases

X-ray 'echoes' map a supermassive black hole's environs

Published on 31/05/2012 

An international team of astronomers using data from the European Space Agency's (ESA) XMM-Newton satellite has identified a long-sought X-ray "echo" that promises a new way to probe supersized black holes in distant galaxies.

Most big galaxies host a big central black hole containing millions of times the sun's mass. When matter streams toward one of these supermassive black holes, the galaxy's center lights up, emitting billions of times more energy than the sun. For years, astronomers have been monitoring such "active galactic nuclei" (AGN) to better understand what happens on the brink of a monster black hole.

Chandra Finds Fastest Wind from Stellar-Mass Black Hole

Published on 22/02/2012 

Astronomers (including members of the Institute of Astronomy) using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have clocked the fastest wind blowing off a disk around a stellar-mass black hole yet discovered. This result has important implications for understanding how this type of black hole behaves.

The record-breaking wind is moving about twenty million miles per hour, or about three percent the speed of light. This is nearly ten times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole.

Royal Astronomical Society honours leading astronomers

Published on 17/01/2012 

The Royal Astronomical Society has recently announced the recipients of its annual prizes and medals. While the quality of the Institute's research leads to numerous prizes and awards, the RAS announcement is notable for the inclusion of three Institute members as well as a project with substantial Institute participation.

Isolating the stellar discs of Andromeda

Published on 15/02/2011 

A team of astronomers from the UK, the US and Europe have identified a thick stellar disc in the nearby Andromeda galaxy for the first time. The discovery and properties of the thick disc will constrain the dominant physical processes involved in the formation and evolution of large spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way.

By analysing precise measurements of the velocities of individual bright stars within the Andromeda galaxy using the Keck telescope in Hawaii, the team have managed to separate out stars tracing out a thick disc from those comprising the thin disc, and assess how they differ in height, width and chemistry.

New light shed on cosmic dark ages

Published on 05/01/2011 

Remnants of the first stars have helped astronomers get closer to unlocking the "dark ages" of the cosmos.

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and California Institute of Technology are using light emitted from massive black holes called quasars to "light up" gases released by the early stars, which exploded billions of years ago. As a result, they have found what they refer to as the missing link in the evolution of the chemical universe.