Institute of Astronomy

Press Releases

Are a companion's comets a key to a curious exoplanet system?

Published on 17/12/2013 

The nearby star Fomalhaut A hosts the most famous planetary system outside our own Solar System, containing both an exoplanet and a spectacular ring of comets. Today, an international team of astronomers announced a new discovery with the Herschel Space Observatory that has made this system even more intriguing; the least massive star of the three in the Fomalhaut system, Fomalhaut C, has now been found to host its own comet belt. The researchers published their results today in a letter to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A New View of the Hot and Energetic Universe

Published on 28/11/2013 

A New View of the Hot and Energetic Universe

ESA selects the science theme for its next large mission

At its meeting in Paris today, the Science Programme Committee of the European Space Agency (ESA) selected the "The Hot and Energetic Universe" as the science theme for its next Large (L-class) mission, expected to be launched in 2028, with the power to address some of the most fundamental questions in modern astrophysics.

Water-Rich Planetary Building Blocks Found Around White Dwarf

Published on 10/10/2013 

Artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61.  Similar objects in the Solar System likely delivered the bulk of water on Earth and represent the building blocks of the terrestrial planets.  Image copyright Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge.

Dating our galaxy's dormant volcano

Published on 23/09/2013 

An artist's conception of a black hole generating a jet. Two million years ago the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy was 100 million times more powerful than it is today. Credit: NASA/Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital

A dormant volcano — a supermassive black hole — lies at the heart of our Galaxy. Fresh evidence suggests that it last erupted two million years ago.

Astronomers have long suspected such an outburst occurred, but this is the first time they've been able to date it.

Clues to the Growth of the Colossus in Coma

Published on 18/09/2013 

A composite imge of the Coma cluster of galaxies, showing bothe the X-ray emission from Chandra (in pink) and the optical data from the SDSS (in white and blue).

‘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.