Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Hubble Weighs in on Mass of Three Million Billion Suns

18 January 2018 - 9:54am

In 2014, astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope found that this enormous galaxy cluster contains the mass of a staggering three million billion suns — so it’s little wonder that it has earned the nickname of “El Gordo” (“the Fat One” in Spanish)!

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 - 10:43

Odd Behaviour of Star Reveals Lonely Black Hole Hiding in Giant Star Cluster

18 January 2018 - 9:51am
Astronomers using ESO’s MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile have discovered a star in the cluster NGC 3201 that is behaving very strangely. It appears to be orbiting an invisible black hole with about four times the mass of the Sun — the first such inactive stellar-mass black hole found in a globular cluster and the first found by directly detecting its gravitational pull. This important discovery impacts on our understanding of the formation of these star clusters, black holes, and the origins of gravitational wave events.

JUICE ground control gets green light to start development of Jupiter operations

17 January 2018 - 9:21am

ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer – JUICE – passed an important milestone, the ground segment requirements review, with flying colours, demonstrating that the teams are on track in the preparation of the spacecraft operations needed to achieve the mission's ambitious science goals.

Hubble scores unique close-up view of distant galaxy

17 January 2018 - 9:19am

The Hubble telescope has scored an unprecedented close-up view of one of the Universe's oldest galaxies.

Rosetta and Planck honoured in annual Royal Astronomical Society awards

15 January 2018 - 9:26am

ESA’s Matt Taylor has been awarded the 2018 Service Award for Geophysics by the Royal Astronomical Society for his outstanding contribution to the Rosetta mission, while the Planck mission has been honoured with the Group Achievement Award for their extraordinary achievements in cosmology.

Citizen science bags five-planet haul

15 January 2018 - 9:25am

Astronomy enthusiasts help to confirm the existence of a five-planet system orbiting a far-off star.

Gravitational waves make their mark

12 January 2018 - 12:04pm
If you want to add a physics twist to your seasonal greetings cards, you now can thanks to Germany's Federal Ministry of Finance.

Once a physicist: Apoorva Jayaraman

12 January 2018 - 12:04pm
Apoorva Jayaraman is a Bharatanatyam artiste who performs solo concerts and conducts workshops across the world.

How to build a planet

12 January 2018 - 12:03pm
It is a difficult project to tackle, in a book – the subject of exoplanets – as it is one of the fastest-moving branches of planetary science. In The Planet Factory Elizabeth Tasker, an astrophysicist at Japan's JAXA space agency, has bravely taken on the role of navigator for this incredible journey of planetary discovery, and the book does not disappoint.

Hubble Yields New Discoveries at the Winter AAS Meeting

12 January 2018 - 9:33am

Astronomers gathering at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society at National Harbor in Washington, D.C., will have a chance to learn about groundbreaking new research with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The new science discoveries with the Earth-orbiting observatory stretch from nearby star-forming regions, to the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, to the horizon of the observable universe. All of these findings exploit the telescope’s extraordinary resolution, sensitivity, and broad wavelength capabilities to gather information about the universe from space-based observations.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 17:16

NASA test proves pulsars can function as a celestial GPS

12 January 2018 - 9:33am

NASA test proves pulsars can function as a celestial GPS

NASA test proves pulsars can function as a celestial GPS, Published online: 11 January 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-00478-8

Experiment shows how spacecraft could use stellar signals to navigate in deep space without human instruction.

Huge black hole blasts out 'double burp'

12 January 2018 - 9:31am

A massive black hole is seen to eject streams of high-energy particles after bingeing on hot gas.

Astronomers detect ‘whirlpool’ movement in earliest galaxies

11 January 2018 - 9:28am

An international team led by Dr Renske Smit from the Kavli Institute of Cosmology at the University of Cambridge used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to open a new window onto the distant Universe, and have for the first time been able to identify normal star-forming galaxies at a very early stage in cosmic history with this telescope. The results are reported in the journal Nature, and will be presented at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Light from distant objects takes time to reach Earth, so observing objects that are billions of light years away enables us to look back in time and directly observe the formation of the earliest galaxies. The Universe at that time, however, was filled with an obscuring ‘haze’ of neutral hydrogen gas, which makes it difficult to see the formation of the very first galaxies with optical telescopes.

Smit and her colleagues used ALMA to observe two small newborn galaxies, as they existed just 800 million years after the Big Bang. By analysing the spectral ‘fingerprint’ of the far-infrared light collected by ALMA, they were able to establish the distance to the galaxies and, for the first time, see the internal motion of the gas that fuelled their growth.

“Until ALMA, we’ve never been able to see the formation of galaxies in such detail, and we’ve never been able to measure the movement of gas in galaxies so early in the Universe’s history,” said co-author Dr Stefano Carniani, from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute of Cosmology.

The researchers found that the gas in these newborn galaxies swirled and rotated in a whirlpool motion, similar to our own galaxy and other, more mature galaxies much later in the Universe’s history. Despite their relatively small size – about five times smaller than the Milky Way – these galaxies were forming stars at a higher rate than other young galaxies, but the researchers were surprised to discover that the galaxies were not as chaotic as expected.

“In the early Universe, gravity caused gas to flow rapidly into the galaxies, stirring them up and forming lots of new stars – violent supernova explosions from these stars also made the gas turbulent,” said Smit, who is a Rubicon Fellow at Cambridge, sponsored by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. “We expected that young galaxies would be dynamically ‘messy’, due to the havoc caused by exploding young stars, but these mini-galaxies show the ability to retain order and appear well regulated. Despite their small size, they are already rapidly growing to become one of the ‘adult’ galaxies like we live in today.”

The data from this project on small galaxies paves the way for larger studies of galaxies during the first billion years of cosmic time. The research was funded in part by the European Research Council and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Renske Smit et al. ‘Rotation in [C II]-emitting gas in two galaxies at a redshift of 6.8.’ Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/nature24631

Astronomers have looked back to a time soon after the Big Bang, and have discovered swirling gas in some of the earliest galaxies to have formed in the Universe. These ‘newborns’ – observed as they appeared nearly 13 billion years ago – spun like a whirlpool, similar to our own Milky Way. This is the first time that it has been possible to detect movement in galaxies at such an early point in the Universe’s history. 

We’ve never been able to see the formation of galaxies in such detail, and we’ve never been able to measure the movement of gas in galaxies so early in the Universe’s history.Stefano CarnianiAmanda Smith, University of CambridgeArtist's impression of spinning galaxyResearcher profile: Renske Smit

Dr Renske Smit is a postdoctoral researcher and Rubicon Fellow at the Kavli Institute of Cosmology and is supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. Prior to arriving in Cambridge in 2016, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Durham University and a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Her research aims to understand how the first sources of light in the Universe came to be. In her daily work, she studies images of deep space, taken by telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope. To gather data, she sometimes travels to places such as Chile or Hawaii to work on big telescopes.

“In Cambridge, I have joined a team working on the James Webb Space Telescope, the most ambitious and expensive telescope ever built,” she says. “With this telescope, we might be able to see the very first stars for the first time. To have this kind of privileged access to world-leading data is truly a dream come true.

“I would like to contribute to changing the perception of what a science professor looks like. Women in the UK and worldwide are terribly underrepresented in science and engineering and as a result, people may feel women either don’t have the inclination or the talent to do science. I hope that one day I will teach students that don’t feel they represent the professor stereotype and make them believe in their own talent.”

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.


New SOFIA Observations Help Unravel Mysteries of the Birth of Colossal Suns

11 January 2018 - 9:27am
Portal origin URL: New SOFIA Observations Help Unravel Mysteries of the Birth of Colossal Suns Portal origin nid: 416689Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - 11:46Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Scientists are using SOFIA to survey young stars more than ten-times the mass of the Sun in an ongoing study to understand how massive stars form in our galaxy.Portal image: The massive forming star Cepheus A shown at three infrared wavelengths of 8, 19 and 37 microns.Science Categories: Universe

'Serious gap' in cosmic expansion rate hints at new physics

11 January 2018 - 9:25am

A discrepancy in measurements of the Universe's expansion rate has now become "pretty serious".

Light shed on mystery space radio pulses

11 January 2018 - 9:24am

Astronomers provide an explanation for the enigmatic radio pulses coming to us from deep space.

First ELT Main Mirror Segments Successfully Cast

10 January 2018 - 9:28am
The first six hexagonal segments for the main mirror of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) have been successfully cast by the German company SCHOTT at their facility in Mainz. These segments will form parts of the ELT’s 39-metre main mirror, which will have 798 segments in total when completed. The ELT will be the largest optical telescope in the world when it sees first light in 2024.

Flying telescope yields insights into birth of stars

10 January 2018 - 9:27am

A telescope inside a jumbo jet yields new insights on how stars are born from collapsing gas and dust.

A large oxygen-dominated core from the seismic cartography of a pulsating white dwarf

9 January 2018 - 9:58am

A large oxygen-dominated core from the seismic cartography of a pulsating white dwarf

A large oxygen-dominated core from the seismic cartography of a pulsating white dwarf, Published online: 08 January 2018; doi:10.1038/nature25136

Asteroseismic ‘sounding’ reveals the internal chemical stratification of the white dwarf KIC08626021, which has a central homogeneous core—composed of 86 per cent oxygen—that has a mass of 0.45 solar masses.

Exoplanet science 2.0

9 January 2018 - 9:58am

Exoplanet science 2.0

Exoplanet science 2.0, Published online: 08 January 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-00108-3

The study of life on and off Earth needs unified funding and a coherent plan, say Caleb Scharf, Debra Fischer and Victoria Meadows.