Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

The tidal remnant of an unusually metal-poor globular cluster

30 July 2020 - 9:02am

Nature, Published online: 29 July 2020; doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2483-6

The Phoenix stream in the Milky Way halo is shown to be a tidally disrupted remnant of an unusually metal-poor globular cluster, which was possibly destroyed during Galactic evolution.

Night-time measurements of astronomical seeing at Dome A in Antarctica

30 July 2020 - 9:02am

Nature, Published online: 29 July 2020; doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2489-0

The night-time seeing (the extent to which a star’s light is blurred by the atmosphere) at Dome A, the highest part on the Antarctic plateau, can be as good as 0.13 arcseconds above a height of only 8 metres.

Bringing Mars back to Earth

29 July 2020 - 9:30am

An audacious mission to bring rock samples from Mars back to Earth is about to begin - find out more with our illustrated guide

How space missions snatch pieces of other worlds and bring them back to Earth

28 July 2020 - 9:13am

Nature, Published online: 27 July 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02185-9

As NASA prepares to launch the first spacecraft that will collect samples from Mars, Nature looks at back at missions that have grabbed extraterrestrial material.

Measuring ripples in the curvature of space-time

27 July 2020 - 1:52pm

Nature, Published online: 27 July 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02212-9

Experimental physicist Sheila Rowan works with laser beams and suspended mirrors to sharpen detection of collapsing stars and other celestial events.

Birth of a planet is spotted for the first time

25 July 2020 - 5:05pm

Astronomers say they have witnessed the distinctive twist in the disc of gas and dust surrounding a newly formed star that likely indicates that a new planet is forming.

South Africa ratifies SKA convention

25 July 2020 - 5:05pm

South Africa has become the third country after the Netherlands and Italy to ratify the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) convention.

Growing the gravitational-wave network

25 July 2020 - 5:05pm

David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, talks to Richard Blaustein about how gravitational-wave observations are set for a multi-detector boost

NASA renames space telescope

25 July 2020 - 5:04pm

NASA’s troubled space telescope, WFIRST, has been renamed the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope in honour of NASA’s former chief of astronomy.

Neutron stars may contain free quarks

25 July 2020 - 5:04pm

A long-standing debate about what lies at the heart of neutron stars might soon be cleared up if a new analysis reconciling observational data and theory is vindicated, as Edwin Cartlidge reports

COVID-19 delays James Webb again

25 July 2020 - 5:04pm

NASA has announced that the delay-hit James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will fail to meet its launch target of March 2021.

NASA and Zooniverse Announce Partnership

25 July 2020 - 5:02pm
Eyebrow: Citizen Science NewsBody: 

NASA and Zooniverse will work together to engage participants in projects that span the wide range of NASA’s science divisions: astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science, and earth science.

Link: Read More

First Ever Image of a Multi-Planet System around a Sun-like Star Captured by ESO Telescope

25 July 2020 - 4:52pm
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) has taken the first ever image of a young, Sun-like star accompanied by two giant exoplanets. Images of systems with multiple exoplanets are extremely rare, and — until now — astronomers had never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The observations can help astronomers understand how planets formed and evolved around our own Sun.

Closest Sun shot, methane rising and a Plan S development

22 July 2020 - 1:13pm

Nature, Published online: 22 July 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02146-2

The latest science news, in brief.

‘Lost’ world’s rediscovery is step towards finding habitable planets

22 July 2020 - 1:08pm

The planet, the size and mass of Saturn with an orbit of thirty-five days, is among hundreds of ‘lost’ worlds that astronomers, including from the University of Cambridge, are using new techniques to track down and characterise, in the hope of finding cooler planets like those in our solar system, and even potentially habitable planets.

Reported in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the planet named NGTS-11b orbits a star 620 light-years away and is located five times closer to its sun than Earth is to our own.

The planet was originally found in a search for planets in 2018 by the University of Warwick-led team using data from NASA’s TESS telescope. This uses the transit method to spot planets, scanning for the tell-tale dip in light from the star that indicates that an object has passed between the telescope and the star.

However, TESS only scans most sections of the sky for 27 days. This means many of the longer period planets only transit once in the TESS data: without a second observation the planet is effectively lost. Researchers from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory are part of the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) team which, after identifying a single transit event in the TESS data of the star NGTS-11, monitored the system in search of additional transits to confirm the planetary nature of the transiting object.

“By chasing that second transit down we’ve found a longer period planet. It’s the first of hopefully many such finds pushing to longer periods,” said lead author Dr Samuel Gill from the University of Warwick. “These discoveries are rare but important, since they allow us to find longer period planets than other astronomers are finding. Longer period planets are cooler, more like the planets in our own solar system.”

NGTS-11b has a temperature of only 160°C – cooler than Mercury or Venus. Although this is still too hot to support life as we know it, it is closer to the Goldilocks zone than many previously discovered planets which typically have temperatures above 1000°C. The Goldilocks zone refers to a range of orbits that would allow a planet or moon to support liquid water: too close to its star and it will be too hot, but too far away and it will be too cold.

“While we have discovered many planets that orbit close to their host star, we know of fewer at longer periods and cooler temperatures, which makes NGTS-11b an interesting find that takes us one step closer to finding planets in the Goldilocks zone,” said co-author Dr Ed Gillen from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. “Longer period planets like NGTS-11b may help us to better understand the various evolutionary processes that planetary systems undergo both during and after their formation.”

NGTS has twelve state-of-the-art telescopes at its site in Chile, which means that researchers can monitor multiple stars for months on end, searching for lost planets. The dip in light from NGTS-11b is only 1% deep and occurs only once every 35 days, putting it out of reach of other telescopes.

There are hundreds of single transits detected by TESS that researchers will be monitoring using this method. This will allow them to discover cooler exoplanets of all sizes, including planets more like those in our own solar system. Some of these will be small rocky planets in the Goldilocks zone that are cool enough to host liquid water oceans and potentially extra-terrestrial life.

The research was supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Samuel Gill et al. ‘NGTS-11 b (TOI-1847 b): A Transiting Warm Saturn Recovered from a TESS Single-transit Event.’ The Astrophysical Journal Letters (2020). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab9eb9

Adapted from a University of Warwick press release.

The rediscovery of a lost planet could pave the way for the detection of a world within the habitable ‘Goldilocks zone’ in a distant solar system.

NGTS-11b is an interesting find that takes us one step closer to finding planets in the Goldilocks zoneEd GillenY. Beletsky (LCO)/ESOParanal nights

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NASA Announces New James Webb Space Telescope Target Launch Date

21 July 2020 - 9:14am

NASA now is targeting Oct. 31, 2021, for the launch of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope from French Guiana, due to impacts from the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as well as technical challenges.

Hubble’s Helix history

21 July 2020 - 9:13am

In response to Keith Cooper’s blog series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, in which he chose and explored its 10 best images.

From ‘techno-turkey’ to iconic observatory

21 July 2020 - 9:11am

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has almost single-handedly transformed astronomical research and altered the public’s perception of space. Now, three decades on, attention is turning to its successor, as Keith Cooper reports

Telescope detects first gamma-ray

21 July 2020 - 9:11am

A prototype for the upcoming Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) is performing as expected after it successfully detected its first gamma-ray signal.

James Webb Space Telescope

18 July 2020 - 9:38am
James Webb Space Telescope Learn More