Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Donald Lynden-Bell (1935–2018)

1 March 2018 - 9:31am

Donald Lynden-Bell (1935–2018)

Donald Lynden-Bell (1935–2018), Published online: 28 February 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-02579-w

Astrophysicist who predicted that galaxies have black holes at their hearts.

A surprising chill before the cosmic dawn

1 March 2018 - 9:30am

A surprising chill before the cosmic dawn

A surprising chill before the cosmic dawn, Published online: 28 February 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-02310-9

An experiment to estimate when stars began to form in the Universe suggests that gas temperatures just before stars appeared had fallen well below predicted limits, and that dark matter is not as shadowy as was thought.

Possible interaction between baryons and dark-matter particles revealed by the first stars

1 March 2018 - 9:30am

Possible interaction between baryons and dark-matter particles revealed by the first stars

Possible interaction between baryons and dark-matter particles revealed by the first stars, Published online: 28 February 2018; doi:10.1038/nature25791

As the first stars heated hydrogen in the early Universe, the 21-cm hyperfine line—an astronomical standard that represents the spin-flip transition in the ground state of atomic hydrogen—was altered, causing the hydrogen gas to absorb photons from the microwave background. This should produce an observable absorption signal at frequencies of less than 200 megahertz (MHz). Judd Bowman and colleagues report the observation of an absorption profile centred at a frequency of 78 MHz that is about 19 MHz wide and 0.5 kelvin deep. The profile is generally in line with expectations, although it is deeper than predicted. An accompanying paper by Rennan Barkana suggests that baryons were interacting with cold dark-matter particles in the early Universe, cooling the gas more than had been expected.

Signal detected from 'cosmic dawn'

1 March 2018 - 9:29am

Scientists observe a signature on the sky from the very first stars to shine in the Universe.

Young planet creates a scene

28 February 2018 - 9:56am

Nestled in the young Ophiuchus star-forming region, 410 light-years from the Sun, a fascinating protoplanetary disc named AS 209 is slowly being carved into shape. This wonderful image was captured using the high-resolution ALMA telescope, revealing a curious pattern of rings and gaps in the dust surrounding a young star.

Protoplanetary discs are dense, rotating planes of gas and dust that surround newly formed stars; providing the matter that one day becomes orbiting planets, moons and other minor bodies. At less than one million years old, this system is very young, but already two clear gaps are being sculpted from the disc.

The outer gap is deep, wide, and largely a dust-free zone, leading astronomers to believe that a giant planet almost the mass of Saturn is orbiting here — around 800 light-minutes from the central star, and more than three times the distance between Neptune and the Sun! As the planet carves out its path, dust piles up at the outer edge of its orbit, creating ever more defined rings in the disc. The thinner, inner dust gap could have been formed by a smaller planet, but astronomers have raised the intriguing possibility that the large and distant circling planet in fact created both paths.

This inferred Saturn-like planet so far from its central star raises fascinating questions about planet formation at the edges of protoplanetary discs on particularly short timescales.


ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/ D. Fedele et al.

About the ImageId:potw1809aType:ObservationRelease date:26 February 2018, 06:00Size:2000 x 2000 pxAbout the ObjectName:AS 209Type:Milky Way : Star : Circumstellar Material : Disk : ProtoplanetaryDistance:400 light years
Image FormatsWallpapers CoordinatesPosition (RA):16 49 15.29Position (Dec):-14&deg 22' 9.04"Field of view:0.06 x 0.06 arcminutesOrientation:North is 180.1° right of vertical

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Chasing a stellar flash with assistance from Gaia

28 February 2018 - 9:48am
Last year, ESA's Gaia mission helped astronomers make unique observations of Neptune's largest moon, Triton, as it passed in front of a distant star. This is a preview of the superb quality and versatility of the Gaia data that will be released in April.

Supermassive black hole is credited for dazzling display

27 February 2018 - 9:22am

Supermassive black hole is credited for dazzling display

Supermassive black hole is credited for dazzling display, Published online: 26 February 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-02514-z

A star’s death throes in black hole’s maw created fireworks in the sky.

Two chemically similar stellar overdensities on opposite sides of the plane of the Galactic disk

27 February 2018 - 9:22am

Two chemically similar stellar overdensities on opposite sides of the plane of the Galactic disk

Two chemically similar stellar overdensities on opposite sides of the plane of the Galactic disk, Published online: 26 February 2018; doi:10.1038/nature25490

Fourteen stars from stellar overdensities above and below the Galactic disk have the same elemental abundances as disk stars, suggesting that these stars originated in the disk, perhaps being removed during interaction with passing dwarf galaxies.

XMM-Newton spies first clear X-ray flares from massive stellar lighthouse

27 February 2018 - 9:21am
In 2014, ESA's XMM-Newton spotted X-rays emanating from the massive star Rho Ophiuchi A and, last year, found these to ebb and flow periodically in the form of intense flares – both unexpected results. The team has now used ESO's Very Large Telescope to find that the star boasts a strong magnetic field, confirming its status as a cosmic lighthouse.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to Reveal Secrets of the Red Planet

21 February 2018 - 9:12am

The planet Mars has fascinated scientists for over a century. Today, it is a frigid desert world with a carbon dioxide atmosphere 100 times thinner than Earth’s. But evidence suggests that in the early history of our solar system, Mars had an ocean’s worth of water. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will study Mars to learn more about the planet’s transition from wet to dry, and what that means about its past and present habitability.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 11:43

Hubble's Window into the Cosmic Past

19 February 2018 - 9:28am

This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy cluster PLCK G004.5-19.5. It was discovered by the ESA Planck satellite through the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect — the distortion of the cosmic microwave background radiation in the direction of the galaxy cluster by high-energy electrons in the intracluster gas.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Friday, February 16, 2018 - 10:10

The Milky Way’s big sister gets shrunk down to size

19 February 2018 - 9:28am

The Milky Way’s big sister gets shrunk down to size

The Milky Way’s big sister gets shrunk down to size, Published online: 16 February 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-02192-x

The Andromeda galaxy might be only half as massive as thought.

Hubble Sees Neptune's Mysterious Shrinking Storm

16 February 2018 - 9:44am

Three billion miles away on the farthest known major planet in our solar system, an ominous, dark storm – once big enough to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean from Boston to Portugal – is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 14:10

Supermassive Black Holes Are Outgrowing Their Galaxies

16 February 2018 - 9:44am

The biggest black holes in the Universe are growing faster than the rate of stars being formed in their galaxies, according to two new studies using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 14:16

A Lonely Beauty [heic1803]

15 February 2018 - 9:10am
Beauty, grace, mystery – this magnificent spiral galaxy has all the qualities of a perfect galactic Valentine. Captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the galaxy NGC 3344 presents itself face-on, allowing astronomers a detailed look at its intricate and elegant structure. And Hubble's ability to observe objects over a wide range of different wavelengths reveals features that would otherwise remain invisible.

Crypto-currency craze 'hinders search for alien life'

15 February 2018 - 9:09am

A scientist says the search for alien intelligence has been hit by a shortage of computer hardware.

ESO’s VLT Working as 16-metre Telescope for First Time

14 February 2018 - 8:57am
The ESPRESSO instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile has for the first time been used to combine light from all four of the 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes. Combining light from the Unit Telescopes in this way makes the VLT the largest optical telescope in existence in terms of collecting area.

Reprieve for Arecibo telescope

13 February 2018 - 10:12am
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced that it will continue to support the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which was hit by a hurricane on 20 September 2017.

A new cosmic messenger

13 February 2018 - 10:11am
The first observation of gravitational waves from two merging neutron stars that was recently made by the LIGO and Virgo detectors has – along with date from telescopes across the globe and in space – kicked off a new era in multimessenger astronomy. Imre Bartos describes this watershed moment, which crowned decades of research and will shape the future of observational astronomy

Perimeter Institute spins off new centre

13 February 2018 - 10:10am
A new centre that will aim to unravel the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy as well as study the Big Bang has been created by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI).