Space

UK astronomers have produced the most sensitive infrared map of the distant Universe ever undertaken. Combining data over a period of three years, they have produced an image containing over 100,000 galaxies over an area four times the size of the full Moon. Some of the first results from the project were presented by Dr Sebastien Foucaud from the University of Nottingham at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast.

Due to the finite speed of light, these observations allow astronomers to look back in time over 10 billion years, producing images of galaxies in the Universe's infancy. The image is so large and so deep that thousands of galaxies can be studied at these early epochs for the first time. By observing in the infrared, astronomers can now peer further back in time, since light from the most distant galaxies is shifted towards redder wavelengths as it travels through the expanding Universe.


A study of active and inactive galaxies by Paul Westoby, Carole Mundell and Ivan Baldry from the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University has given new insights into the complex interaction between super-massive black holes at the heart of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) and star formation in the surrounding galaxy.

The team studied the properties of light from 360,000 galaxies in the local Universe to understand the relationship between accreting black holes, the birth of stars in galaxy centres and the evolution of the galaxies as a whole.

The study finds that gas ejected during the quasar stage of AGN snuffs out star formation, leaving the host galaxies to evolve passively. The study also reveals a strong link between galaxy mergers and the formation of super-massive black holes in AGN, but shows that if the environment becomes too crowded with galaxies, then the likelihood of firing up a supermassive black hole becomes suppressed.


Scientists have discovered a possible terrestrial-type planet orbiting a star in the constellation Leo. The new planet lies at a distance of 30 light years from the Earth and has a mass five times that of our planet but is the smallest found to date. One full day on the new planet would be equivalent to three weeks on Earth.

A team of astronomers from the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) working with Dr Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, a visiting astrophysicist at University College London (UCL), made the discovery from model predictions of a new exoplanet orbiting a star in the constellation of Leo. Simulations show that the exoplanet, dubbed GJ 436c, orbits its host star (GJ 436) in only 5.2 Earth days, and is thought to complete a revolution in 4.2 Earth days, compared to the Earth’s revolution of 24 hours and full orbit of 365 days.




A rare type of galax with a higher number of X-rays than thought possible has been detected.

Quasars are cosmic 'engines' that pump energy into their surroundings - theorists speculate that an enormous black hole drives each one. As matter falls into the black hole, it collects in a swirling reservoir called the accretion disc, which heats up. Computer simulations suggest that powerful radiation and magnetic fields present in the region eject some of gas from the gravitational clutches of the black hole, throwing it back into space.



Using data from the Hinode and RHESSI solar observatories, astronomers have discovered that solar flares - explosions in the atmosphere of the sun - get much hotter when they stay "focused."

Dr Ryan Milligan of Oak Ridge Association of Universities, Tennessee, who is stationed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the US, will present his result on Wednesday 2 April at RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast.

Solar flares are caused by the sudden release of magnetic energy. The largest can release as much energy as a billion one-megaton nuclear bombs. However, the flare observed in this study was a much more common "micro" flare. Researchers at space agencies like NASA and ESA want to understand flares because they generate radiation that can be hazardous to unprotected astronauts, like those walking on the surface of the Moon.


There are many interactions between the Sun and the Earth but one of the most dynamic events is a ‘substorm’ - an explosive reshaping of the Earth’s outer magnetic field.

To better understand substorms, scientists in Europe and North America are studying them from space using the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) satellites launched by NASA in 2007 and from the ground using a network of all-sky cameras.

University of Lancaster solar-terrestrial scientist Dr Emma Woodfield gave a talk at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast and presented the first few months of results from the Rainbow cameras newly installed in southern Iceland that complement this network.


The Sun has a very dynamic atmosphere, with huge fountains of hot gas erupting in the atmosphere, or corona, every few minutes, travelling at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour and reaching great heights.

A team of scientists using the Hinode spacecraft has been searching for the origin and driver of these 'fountains', immense magnetic structures that thread through the solar atmosphere. On Wednesday 2 April at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast (NAM 2008), team leader Dr. Michelle Murray from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL, University College London) presented the latest results from Hinode together with computer simulations that model conditions on the Sun.


An international team of scientists, led by Prof Louise Harra, University College London, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, have found a source of the stream of particles that make up the slow solar wind using data from Hinode and SOHO.

The solar wind can have low or high speeds. The low-speed or slow solar wind moves at only 1.5 million km/h. The high-speed wind is even faster, moving at speeds as high as 3 million km/h. As it flows past Earth, the solar wind changes the shape and structure of Earth's magnetic field.

ESA’ s SOHO and Hinode Project Scientist, Bernhard Fleck says, “In the past, apart from creating beautiful auroral displays, the solar wind didn’t affect us directly. But as we’ve become increasingly dependent on technology, we are more susceptible to its effects. We’re learning that variations in its flow can dramatically change the shape of Earth's magnetic field, which can damage satellites, disrupt communications and electrical power systems.”


Scottish astronomers have found a baby planet still in the stages of forming and encased within a 'womb' of gas.

The embryonic planet, thought to be the youngest ever seen, was discovered by Dr Jane Greaves of the University of St Andrews and colleagues from across the UK and the US.

The finding provides a unique view of how planets take shape, because the supporting images also shows the womb-like parent disk material from which the new planet formed. The 'protoplanet', called HL Tau b after its parent star HL Tau, could be as young as a few hundred years old.

Dr Greaves, of the School of Physics & Astronomy at St Andrews, explained, "The planet will probably take millions of years to settle down into its final form of something like Jupiter.

Using a new technique, two NASA scientists have identified the lightest known black hole. With a mass only about 3.8 times greater than our Sun and a diameter of only 15 miles, the black hole lies very close to the minimum size predicted for black holes that originate from dying stars.

"This black hole is really pushing the limits. For many years astronomers have wanted to know the smallest possible size of a black hole, and this little guy is a big step toward answering that question," says lead author Nikolai Shaposhnikov of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Shaposhnikov and his Goddard colleague Lev Titarchuk presented their results on Monday, March 31, at the American Astronomical Society High-Energy Astrophysics Division meeting in Los Angeles, Calif. Titarchuk also works at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.
The tiny black hole resides in a Milky Way Galaxy binary system known as XTE J1650-500, named for its sky coordinates in the southern constellation Ara.