Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

Celestial collision may have hatched rubber-duck comet

6 March 2018 - 10:11am

Celestial collision may have hatched rubber-duck comet

Celestial collision may have hatched rubber-duck comet, Published online: 05 March 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-02739-y

Comets with double bulges could have relatively recent origins.

MATISSE Instrument Sees First Light on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer

6 March 2018 - 10:09am
The new MATISSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) has now successfully made its first observations at the Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. MATISSE is the most powerful interferometric instrument in the world at mid-infrared wavelengths. It will use high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy to probe the regions around young stars where planets are forming as well as the regions around supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies. The first MATISSE observations used the VLTI’s Auxiliary Telescopes to examine some of the brightest stars in the night sky, including Sirius, Rigel and Betelgeuse, and showed that the instrument is working well.

Donor star breathes life into zombie companion

6 March 2018 - 10:06am

ESA's INTEGRAL space observatory has witnessed a rare event: the moment that winds emitted by a swollen red giant star revived its slow-spinning companion, the core of a dead star, bringing it back to life in a flash of X-rays.

INTEGRAL Announcement of Opportunity (AO-16)

6 March 2018 - 10:06am
Proposals are solicited for observations with INTEGRAL in response to the Sixteenth Announcement of Opportunity, AO-16, issued 5 March 2018. This AO covers the period January 2019 to December 2019.

NASA Finds a Large Amount of Water in an Exoplanet's Atmosphere

5 March 2018 - 10:18am

Much like detectives study fingerprints to identify the culprit, scientists used NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to find the “fingerprints” of water in the atmosphere of a hot, bloated, Saturn-mass exoplanet some 700 light-years away. And, they found a lot of water. In fact, the planet, known as WASP-39b, has three times as much water as Saturn does.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Friday, March 2, 2018 - 09:30

Hubble observes exoplanet atmosphere in more detail than ever before [heic1804]

2 March 2018 - 10:24am

An international team of scientists has used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the atmosphere of the hot exoplanet WASP-39b. By combining this new data with older data they created the most complete study yet of an exoplanet atmosphere. The atmospheric composition of WASP-39b hints that the formation processes of exoplanets can be very different from those of our own Solar System giants.

Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS)

1 March 2018 - 10:33am

How would you search for signs of life – traces of tiny, living microbes or their fossilized remains – in an extreme and distant environment? NASA scientists and engineers are working on an answer to that question, aiming to find out if life ever evolved on the planet Mars and if it still harbors life today.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - 13:50

Donald Lynden-Bell (1935–2018)

1 March 2018 - 10:31am

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 - 10:30am

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 - 10:30am

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 - 10:29am

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 - 10:56am

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 - 10:48am
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 - 10:22am

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 - 10:22am

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 - 10:21am
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.