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Keck Observatory measures oxygen in galaxy 12 billion years ago

4 August 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have made the first accurate measurement of the abundance of oxygen in a distant galaxy. Oxygen is created inside stars and released into interstellar gas when stars die. Quantifying the amount of oxygen, the third-most abundant chemical element in the universe, is key to understanding how matter cycles in and out of galaxies.

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“Electric wind” can strip Earth-like planets of oceans and atmospheres

21 June 2016 Astronomy Now

The space environment around a planet plays a key role in determining what molecules exist in the atmosphere – and whether the planet is habitable for life. New research shows that Venus has an “electric wind” strong enough to remove the components of water from its upper atmosphere, which may have played a significant role in stripping Earth’s twin planet of its oceans.

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ALMA detects most distant signs of oxygen in the universe

17 June 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers has used the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) to detect glowing oxygen in a distant galaxy seen just 700 million years after the Big Bang. This is the most distant galaxy in which oxygen has ever been unambiguously detected, and it is most likely being ionised by powerful radiation from young giant stars.

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Surprising chemistry seen in molecular rings around young star

24 September 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have discovered two spectacular rings of molecules encircling the young, Sun-like star IM Lup. The rings are made up of one of the most common heavy ions in space — DCO+ (deuterium, carbon, oxygen). This chemistry reveals new insights into the conditions of the planet-forming disc surrounding this star.