Institute of Astronomy

News and Press Releases

First joint measurement of exoplanet’s mass and brightness challenges classical model of planet formation

Published on 01/10/2020 

A team of astronomers led by led by Cambridge astronomer Mathias Nowak have used the ESO instrument GRAVITY to take the first image of an exoplanet that had previously only been detected indirectly via the spectrum of its star. The result is the first set of measurements that allows astronomers to both determine an exoplanet’s intrinsic brightness and estimate its mass. For the planet, beta Pictoris c, the outcome is surprising: Even though it may have a similar mass as its sister planet beta Pictoris b, its brightness is lower by a factor 6.

Possible Marker of Life Spotted on Venus

Published on 14/09/2020 

An international team of astronomers today announced the discovery of a rare molecule — phosphine — in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes — floating free of the scorching surface but needing to tolerate very high acidity. The detection of phosphine could point to such extra-terrestrial “aerial” life.

Astronomers find cosmic 'golden needle' buried for two decades; discovery sheds new light on famous Einstein ring

Published on 01/06/2020 

Determined to find a needle in a cosmic haystack, a pair of astronomers (including Dominic Walton, an STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow here at the Institute of Astronomy) time traveled through archives of old data from W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauankea in Hawaii and old X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to unlock a mystery surrounding a bright, lensed, heavily obscured quasar.

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics awarded to Andrew Fabian

Published on 27/05/2020 

The 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics is awarded to astronomer and astrophysicist Andrew Fabian for his pioneering research and persistence in pursuing the mystery of how black holes influence their surrounding galaxies on both large and small scales.

New data tests 'theory of everything'

Published on 19/03/2020 

One of the biggest ideas in physics is the possibility that all known forces, particles, and interactions can be connected in one framework. String theory is arguably the best-known proposal for a 'theory of everything' that would tie together our understanding of the physical universe.