Institute of Astronomy

Press Releases

First detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars

Published on 16/10/2017 

In a galaxy far away, two dead stars begin a final spiral into a massive collision. The resulting explosion unleashes a huge burst of energy, sending ripples across the very fabric of space. In the nuclear cauldron of the collision, atoms are ripped apart to form entirely new elements and scattered outward across the Universe.

It could be a scenario from science fiction, but it really happened 130 million years ago -- in the NGC 4993 galaxy in the Hydra constellation, at a time here on Earth when dinosaurs still ruled, and flowering plants were only just evolving.

The Scientific Quest to Explain Tabby's Star

Published on 10/10/2017 

One of the most mysterious stellar objects may be revealing some of its secrets at last.

An inferno world with titanium skies

Published on 13/09/2017 

An international team of astronomers has detected titanium oxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet for the first time. The results, reported in the journal Nature, provide unique information about the chemical composition and the temperature and pressure structure of the atmosphere of this unusual and very hot world.

Flashes of light on dark matter

Published on 19/07/2017 

Studying the intergalactic space using the light coming from very distant quasars: thanks to simulations using a supercomputer, new research has offered new evidence on one of the great mysteries of the Universe.

A star the size of Saturn

Published on 08/07/2017 

The smallest star yet measured has been discovered by a team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge. With a size just a sliver larger than that of Saturn, the gravitational pull at its stellar surface is about 300 times stronger than what humans feel on Earth. This star is likely about as small as stars can possibly become, meaning that this is one of the most compact instance of a naturally occurring hydrogen-fusion reactor.

The fastest stars in the Milky Way are ‘runaways’ from another galaxy

Published on 03/07/2017 

A group of astronomers have shown that the fastest-moving stars in our galaxy – which are travelling so fast that they can escape the Milky Way – are in fact runaways from a much smaller galaxy in orbit around
our own.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and computer simulations to demonstrate that these stellar sprinters originated in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy in orbit around the Milky Way.

ESA exoplanet PLATO mission moves towards construction

Published on 20/06/2017 

The ESA SPC meeting on 20-21 June has now agreed to the adoption of the PLATO mission, following its selection in February 2014. This means it can move from a blueprint into construction. In the coming months industry will be asked to make bids to supply the spacecraft platform. Whilst its payload and control and analysis software will be constructed by agencies and institutes across Europe.

Kepler telescope spies details of TRAPPIST-1 system’s outermost planet

Published on 22/05/2017 

Kepler telescope spies details of TRAPPIST-1 system’s outermost planet

University of Cambridge astronomers are part of an international team that used data gathered by the Kepler Space Telescope to observe and confirm details of the outermost of seven exoplanets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1. The observations confirm, as had been predicted, that the seventh and outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, orbits its star every 18.77 days.

Icy ring around young planetary system has similar chemical fingerprint to our solar system

Published on 17/05/2017 

Icy ring around young planetary system has similar chemical fingerprint to our solar system

An international team of astronomers, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, has made the most detailed image of the ring of dusty debris surrounding a young star and found that the ice content of colliding comets within it is similar to comets in our own solar system.

The spiralling signatures of planet formation

Published on 24/04/2017 

A young star recently observed to be surrounded by spiralling gas and dust could be one of the first to show planet formation ‘in action’ via a mechanism once thought to be unlikely.

Astrophysicists at the University of Cambridge, led by Dr Farzana Meru and Dr Attila Juhász, have used theoretical models to determine the origins of the striking large-scale spiral features surrounding a nearby star.