Institute of Astronomy

Press Releases

New class of habitable exoplanets represent a big step forward in the search for life

Published on 26/08/2021 

A new class of exoplanet very different to our own, but which could support life, has been identified by astronomers, which could greatly accelerate the search for life outside our Solar System.

Unique exoplanet photobombs Cheops study of nearby star system

Published on 30/06/2021 

While exploring two exoplanets in a bright nearby star system, ESA’s exoplanet-hunting Cheops satellite has unexpectedly spotted the system’s third known planet crossing the face of the star. This transit reveals exciting details about a rare planet “with no known equivalent”, say the researchers.

Cosmic dawn occurred 250 to 350 million years after Big Bang

Published on 25/06/2021 

Cosmic dawn, when stars formed for the first time, occurred 250 million to 350 million years after the beginning of the universe, according to a new study led by researchers at University of Cambridge and UCL.

The study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests that the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to launch in November, will be sensitive enough to observe the birth of galaxies directly.

Astronomers spot a ‘blinking giant’ near the centre of the Galaxy

Published on 11/06/2021 

An international team of astronomers observed the star, VVV-WIT-08, decreasing in brightness by a factor of 30, so that it nearly disappeared from the sky. While many stars change in brightness because they pulsate or are eclipsed by another star in a binary system, it’s exceptionally rare for a star to become fainter over a period of several months and then brighten again.

Roberto Maiolino awarded the Royal Society Research Professorship

Published on 15/01/2021 

Professor Roberto Maiolino, Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge, has been awarded the prestigious Royal Society Research Professorship. This is the Royal Society's premier research award and "provides long term support to world-class researchers of outstanding achievement” and enables them "to focus on ambitious and original research of the highest quality”.

Dr Kaisey Mandel awarded ERC Consolidator Grant

Published on 10/12/2020 

Dr Kaisey Mandel, the interdisciplinary University Lecturer on Astrostatistics at the Institute of Astronomy, KICC, and the Statistical Laboratory of the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, has been awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council.

Fast-moving gas flowing away from young star's asteroid belt may be caused by icy comet vaporisation

Published on 30/11/2020 

A unique stage of planetary system evolution has been imaged by astronomers, showing fast-moving carbon monoxide gas flowing away from a star system over 400 light years away, a discovery that provides an opportunity to study how our own solar system developed.

The Gaia Early Data Release 3

Published on 26/11/2020 

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.