Institute of Astronomy

Press Releases

‘Polluted’ stellar graveyard gives glimpse of our Solar System beyond Sun’s implosion

Published on 08/05/2013 

By chemically sampling the atmospheres of two dead stars in the Hyades cluster 150 light years away, researchers at Cambridge and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered the building blocks for Earth-sized planets formed around the stars while they lived.

The study offers insight into what will happen in our solar system when our Sun burns out 5 billion years from now. It is published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomers and cancer researchers team up to beat cancer

Published on 19/02/2013 

Cancer Research UK and Institute of Astronomy  scientists have honed techniques originally developed to spot distant galaxies and used them to identify biomarkers that signal a cancer’s aggressiveness among some 2,000 breast tumours, in a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

The findings mean that the age-old practice of pathologists looking down the microscope to spot key differences in the staining of tumour samples could one day become a thing of the past.

Breakthrough study models dying stars in a lab

Published on 14/02/2013 

A team of scientists has successfully reproduced conditions in one of the most hostile environments in the galaxy, enabling them to find out more about how atoms behave in these extreme settings.

The study modelled conditions near to the surface of a white dwarf star - a stellar remnant comprising the dead embers which are left behind after Sun-like stars have exhausted their fuel. The environment is characterised by very high gravitational forces, very high temperatures, and occasionally very high magnetic fields.

Do missing Jupiters mean massive comet belts?

Published on 27/11/2012 

Do missing Jupiters mean massive comet belts?

Using ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have discovered vast comet belts surrounding two nearby planetary systems known to host only Earth-to-Neptune-mass worlds. The comet reservoirs could have delivered life-giving oceans to the innermost planets.

Hubble Goes to the eXtreme to Assemble Farthest Ever View of the Universe

Published on 25/09/2012 

Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of humanity's deepest-ever view of the universe.

Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the centre of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon.

Dark Galaxies of the Early Universe Spotted for the First Time

Published on 11/07/2012 

For the first time, dark galaxies — an early phase of galaxy formation, predicted by theory but unobserved until now — may have been spotted. These objects are essentially gas-rich galaxies without stars. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, an international team thinks they have detected these elusive objects by observing them glowing as they are illuminated by a quasar.

UK Infrared Telescope discovers 'impossible' binary stars

Published on 04/07/2012 

UK Infrared Telescope discovers 'impossible' binary stars

A team of astronomers have used the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Hawaii to discover four pairs of stars that orbit each other in less than 4 hours. Until now it was thought that such close-in binary stars could not exist. The new discoveries come from the telescope’s Wide Field Camera (WFCAM) Transit Survey, and appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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.

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.