Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

NuSTAR Probes Black Hole Jet Mystery

2 November 2017 - 9:16am

Black holes are famous for being ravenous eaters, but they do not eat everything that falls toward them. A small portion of material gets shot back out in powerful jets of hot gas, called plasma, that can wreak havoc on their surroundings.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 10:34

We may have found 20 habitable worlds hiding in plain sight

1 November 2017 - 9:13am

After taking another look at data from the Kepler space telescope’s original mission we have spotted 20 possible Earth-like worlds that could host life

Asteroid impact plunged dinosaurs into catastrophic 'winter'

1 November 2017 - 9:12am

Scientists are now clearer on the freezing climate conditions that forced dinosaurs from the Earth.

We may have found 20 habitable worlds hiding in plain sight

31 October 2017 - 9:19am

After taking another look at data from the Kepler space telescope’s original mission we have spotted 20 possible Earth-like worlds that could host life

Surprisingly erratic X-ray auroras discovered at Jupiter

31 October 2017 - 9:18am

ESA and NASA space telescopes have revealed that, unlike Earth's polar lights, the intense auroras seen at Jupiter's poles unexpectedly behave independently of one another.

Oldest recorded solar eclipse helps date the Egyptian pharaohs

30 October 2017 - 9:15am

Using a combination of the biblical text and an ancient Egyptian text, the researchers were then able to refine the dates of the Egyptian pharaohs, in particular the dates of the reign of Ramesses the Great. The results are published in the Royal Astronomical Society journal Astronomy & Geophysics.

The biblical text in question comes from the Old Testament book of Joshua and has puzzled biblical scholars for centuries. It records that after Joshua led the people of Israel into Canaan – a region of the ancient Near East that covered modern-day Israel and Palestine – he prayed: “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon. And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.”

“If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was taking place - the question for us to figure out is what the text actually means,” said paper co-author Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, who is also interested in relating scientific knowledge to the Bible.

“Modern English translations, which follow the King James translation of 1611, usually interpret this text to mean that the sun and moon stopped moving,” said Humphreys, who is also a Fellow of Selwyn College. “But going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining. In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, and the sun appears to stop shining. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘stand still’ has the same root as a Babylonian word used in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses.”

Humphreys and his co-author, Graeme Waddington, are not the first to suggest that the biblical text may refer to an eclipse, however, earlier historians claimed that it was not possible to investigate this possibility further due to the laborious calculations that would have been required.

Independent evidence that the Israelites were in Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BC can be found in the Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian text dating from the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah, son of the well-known Ramesses the Great. The large granite block, held in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, says that it was carved in the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign and mentions a campaign in Canaan in which he defeated the people of Israel.

Earlier historians have used these two texts to try to date the possible eclipse, but were not successful as they were only looking at total eclipses, in which the disc of the sun appears to be completely covered by the moon as the moon passes directly between the earth and the sun. What the earlier historians failed to consider was that it was instead an annular eclipse, in which the moon passes directly in front of the sun, but is too far away to cover the disc completely, leading to the characteristic ‘ring of fire’ appearance. In the ancient world, the same word was used for both total and annular eclipses.

The researchers developed a new eclipse code, which takes into account variations in the Earth’s rotation over time. From their calculations, they determined that the only annular eclipse visible from Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BC was on 30 October 1207 BC, in the afternoon. If their arguments are accepted, it would not only be the oldest solar eclipse yet recorded, it would also enable researchers to date the reigns of Ramesses the Great and his son Merneptah to within a year.

“Solar eclipses are often used as a fixed point to date events in the ancient world,” said Humphreys. Using these new calculations, the reign of Merneptah began in 1210 or 1209 BC. As it is known from Egyptian texts how long he and his father reigned for, it would mean that Ramesses the Great reigned from 1276-1210 BC, with a precision of plus or minus one year, the most accurate dates available. The precise dates of the pharaohs have been subject to some uncertainty among Egyptologists, but this new calculation, if accepted, could lead to an adjustment in the dates of several of their reigns and enable us to date them precisely.

Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington. ‘Solar eclipse of 1207 BC helps to date pharaohs.’ Astronomy & Geophysics (2017). DOI: 10.1093/astrogeo/atx178.

Researchers have pinpointed the date of what could be the oldest solar eclipse yet recorded. The event, which occurred on 30 October 1207 BC, is mentioned in the Bible and could have consequences for the chronology of the ancient world. 

If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was taking place - the question for us to figure out is what the text actually means.Colin HumphreysKevin BairdAnnular eclipse photographed at sunset in eastern New Mexico.

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

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We now know more on the origins of weird duck-shaped comet 67P

30 October 2017 - 9:14am

One of the weirdest comets we’ve seen formed from tiny pebbles that trace back to the start of our solar system – which may tell us more about how planets are made

Small Asteroid or Comet 'Visits' from Beyond the Solar System

30 October 2017 - 9:14am

A small, recently discovered asteroid -- or perhaps a comet -- appears to have originated from outside the solar system, coming from somewhere else in our galaxy. If so, it would be the first "interstellar object" to be observed and confirmed by astronomers.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Friday, October 27, 2017 - 10:36

Professor Stephen Hawking's PhD viewed two million times

30 October 2017 - 9:13am

Cambridge University say the online repository has "never seen numbers like this before".

Stephen Hawking gives talk on black holes at Oxford University

30 October 2017 - 9:13am

World-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking thrilled fans with a talk on black holes.

Hubble discovers 'wobbling galaxies' - Observations may hint at nature of dark matter [heic1718]

27 October 2017 - 8:26am

Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered that the brightest galaxies within galaxy clusters "wobble" relative to the cluster's centre of mass. This unexpected result is inconsistent with predictions made by the current standard model of dark matter. With further analysis it may provide insights into the nature of dark matter, perhaps even indicating that new physics is at work.

Rosetta finds comet plume powered from deep below

27 October 2017 - 8:25am

Last year, a fountain of dust was spotted streaming from Rosetta's comet, prompting the question: how was it powered? Scientists now suggest the outburst was driven from inside the comet, perhaps released from ancient gas vents or pockets of hidden ice.

A 300-kilometre space rock has vanished since we saw it in 1995

26 October 2017 - 8:15am

Don’t feel so bad for losing your keys. Astronomers somehow lost a huge space rock first seen 22 years ago – and it’s far from the first cosmic object to go missing

Dawn spacecraft approved to spend another year studying Ceres

26 October 2017 - 8:14am

NASA has extended the mission of the Dawn probe around the icy dwarf planet Ceres. It will dip toward Ceres's surface and study its tenuous atmosphere

Light’s quantum weirdness survives after going to space and back

26 October 2017 - 8:14am

Photons act both like waves and particles, and their dual nature has now been seen even after bouncing them off a satellite in low Earth orbit

We may have just seen the first comet from another solar system

26 October 2017 - 8:13am

An icy comet just hurtled past the sun on a strange path that suggests it came from outside our solar system, making it the first such interloper we've ever spotted

Jupiter's stormy winds churn deep into the planet

26 October 2017 - 8:12am

Jupiter's stormy winds churn deep into the planet

Nature 550, 7677 (2017).

Author: Alexandra Witze

Juno probe discovers surprising activity in the giant planet’s interior.

India gears up for second Moon mission

26 October 2017 - 8:12am

India gears up for second Moon mission

Nature 550, 7677 (2017).

Author: T. V. Padma

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, lander and rover will track how lunar dust might scupper settlement.

Revealing Galactic Secrets

26 October 2017 - 8:09am
Countless galaxies vie for attention in this monster image of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster, some appearing only as pinpricks of light while others dominate the foreground. One of these is the lenticular galaxy NGC 1316. The turbulent past of this much-studied galaxy has left it with a delicate structure of loops, arcs and rings that astronomers have now imaged in greater detail than ever before with the VLT Survey Telescope. This astonishingly deep image also reveals a myriad of dim objects along with faint intracluster light.

Possible exomoon may be an ocean-covered world as big as Saturn

25 October 2017 - 8:14am

The exomoon candidate found in July is a real oddity – early calculations suggest it’s huge and doesn’t fit any moon formation processes we currently know