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Mystery within the deep-frozen ‘Flying Saucer’

3 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have made the first direct measurement of the temperature of large dust grains in the outer parts of a planet-forming disc around a young star. Observations of an object nicknamed the Flying Saucer reveals that the grains are much colder than expected. This surprising result suggests that models of these discs may need to be revised.

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The Milky Way’s clean and tidy galactic neighbour

27 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Many galaxies are chock-full of dust, while others have occasional dark streaks of opaque cosmic soot swirling in amongst their gas and stars. However, the irregular dwarf galaxy IC 1613 contains very little cosmic dust, allowing astronomers to explore its contents with great clarity. This is not just a matter of appearances; the galaxy’s cleanliness is vital to our understanding of the universe around us.

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Ancient star provides insight into stellar origins in early universe

22 January 2016 Astronomy Now

A team of researchers has observed the brightest, ultra metal-poor star ever discovered. (To astronomers, metals are elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.) The star is therefore a rare relic from the Milky Way’s formative years. As such, it offers astronomers a precious opportunity to explore the origin of the first stars that sprung to life within our galaxy.

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Follow a live Proxima Centauri exoplanet hunt with the Pale Red Dot campaign

15 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Pale Red Dot is an international search for an Earth-like exoplanet around the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. It will be one of the few outreach campaigns allowing the general public to witness the scientific process of data acquisition in modern observatories via blog posts and social media updates. The Pale Red Dot campaign will run from January to April 2016.

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First light for future black hole probe

13 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Zooming in on black holes is the main mission for the newly installed GRAVITY instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. During its first observations, GRAVITY successfully combined starlight using all four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes. The first observations using GRAVITY with the four 8-metre VLT Unit Telescopes are planned for later in 2016.

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Galaxy cluster survey yields 3-D view of universe’s dark side

18 December 2015 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers used European Southern Observatory telescopes to complement other earth- and space-based instruments as part of the XXL survey of galaxy clusters. The ESO team measured the precise distances to the galaxy clusters, providing the 3-D view of the cosmos required to perform accurate measurements of dark matter and dark energy.

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Strange globular cluster recalls Milky Way’s infancy

14 December 2015 Astronomy Now

When our galaxy was born, around 13,000 million years ago, a plethora of clusters containing millions of stars emerged. But over time, they have been disappearing. However, hidden behind younger stars that formed later, some old and dying star clusters remain, such as the so-called E 3. European astronomers have now studied this testimony to the beginnings of our galaxy.

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The birth of monsters: VISTA pinpoints earliest giant galaxies

18 November 2015 Astronomy Now

ESO’s VISTA survey telescope has spied a horde of previously hidden massive galaxies that existed when the universe was in its infancy. By discovering and studying more of these galaxies than ever before, astronomers have, for the first time, found out exactly when such monster galaxies first appeared.

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ALMA observes growing pains in a cluster of protostars

5 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered an adolescent protostar that is undergoing a rapid-fire succession of growth spurts. Evidence for this fitful youth is seen in a pair of intermittent jets streaming away from the star’s poles. Known as CARMA-7, the protostar is one of dozens of similar objects in the Serpens South star cluster, which is located approximately 1,400 light-years from Earth.

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Zooming into the Coalsack Nebula

14 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Dark smudges almost block out a rich star field in this new image of the Coalsack Nebula captured by the 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This huge, dusky object forms a conspicuous silhouette against the bright, starry band of the Milky Way and has been known to people in the Southern Hemisphere for as long as our species has existed.