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Seeds of supermassive black holes could be revealed by gravitational waves

27 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Gravitational waves captured by space-based detectors could help identify the origins of supermassive black holes, according to new computer simulations. Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology ran the huge cosmological simulations that can be used to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between the monster black holes might be detected.

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Stifling atmospheres could limit number of habitable exoplanets

26 May 2016 Astronomy Now

New research reveals that fewer than predicted planets may be capable of harbouring life because their atmospheres keep them too hot. Computer simulations show that planets similar to or larger in mass than the Earth that are born with thick envelopes of hydrogen and helium are likely to retain their stifling atmospheres.

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Astronomers detect double ‘peanut shell’ galaxies

8 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, have discovered an unusually shaped structure in two nearby disc galaxies. The Swinburne team recently developed new imaging software, making it possible to observe the double “peanut shell shape” formed by the distribution of stars bulging from the centres of these galaxies.

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Where to view the transit of Mercury on 9 May

7 May 2016 Astronomy Now

With the transit of Mercury just two days away, interest in this comparatively rare event is growing fast. Given the favourable timing of this 7½-hour phenomenon for the UK, many will be able to view it at lunchtime or after work. If you don’t have suitably equipped telescope, join one of the many transit-viewing activities hosted by astronomical organisations nationwide.

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Rare transit of Mercury to take place on 9 May

1 May 2016 Astronomy Now

On Monday, 9 May there will be a rare transit of Mercury, when the innermost planet in our solar system will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun. The last time this happened was in 2006. With a properly filtered telescope and fine weather, the entire 7½-hour event can be seen from the British Isles.

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Hubble unveils monster stars in the Tarantula Nebula

17 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the unique ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified nine monster stars with masses over 100 times the mass of the Sun in the star cluster R136, located in the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud. This makes it the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date.

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Students map Milky Way with dwarf stars

17 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Two astronomy students from Leiden University have mapped the entire Milky Way Galaxy in dwarf stars for the first time. They show that there are a total of 58 billion dwarf stars, of which seven percent reside in the outer regions of our galaxy. This result is the most comprehensive model ever for the distribution of these stars.

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A lonely planet and its distant star

26 January 2016 Astronomy Now

A team of astronomers in the UK, USA and Australia have found a planet, until now thought to be a free floating, in a huge, 900,000-year orbit around its star. Incredibly the object, designated as 2MASS J2126, is about 1 trillion (1 million million) kilometres from the star, or about 7,000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

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UK headquarters for the world’s largest telescope?

23 March 2015 Astronomy Now

The Square Kilometre Array Organisation’s decision to extend its selection process to decide where to site the permanent headquarters of the array is welcomed by the Institude of Physics and the Royal Astronomical Society, backing a bid for the UK’s Jodrell Bank Observatory to be the host.