Astro Blog

08 June 2012

The Biggest Questions in Astrophysics: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is visiting Professor of astrophysics here at the University of Oxford and is one of Britain’s most respected physicists. Professor Bell Burnell discovered pulsars as a PhD student and became the first female president of the Institute of Physics. I asked for her thoughts regarding the current big questions in astrophysics, and after acknowledging that Dark Energy and Dark Matter are issues that of course loom large, Professor Bell Burnell went on to highlight the importance of obtaining a direct detection of gravitational waves.

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05 June 2012

Transiting planet visible with the naked eye!

In the early hours of this Wednesday morning, Venus will pass directly in front of the Sun, in a transit event that won't happen again within your lifetime (unless you live till 2117). Astronomers in Oxfordshire are marking the event in a range of ways: Suzanne Aigrain has gone to Sweden for a better view, and the Abingdon Astronomical Society are heading up to the Ridgeway to watch the Sun, and Venus, rise.

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30 March 2012

Beacons or Fireworks?

In the local, old Universe we only see intense bursts of star formation when galaxies collide - but the young Universe was a very different place, it seems. Georgios Magdis is using the Herschel and VLA telescopes to measure the amount of gas in massive galaxies 1-4 billion years after the Big Bang, and finding that mergers weren't so important back then. Some galaxies had so much gas they could sustain long periods of star formation, without the need for a merger to compress the gas at all - they look more like beacons than fireworks.

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29 March 2012

VISTA's superb deep infrared image of Hubble's COSMOS field

A new observation carried out with the VISTA telescope, built here in Oxfordshire and now operating in Chile, has given us the deepest wide-field infrared image of the Universe that will be available from the ground for some years to come... Gavin Dalton introduces the remarkable first-year Ultra-VISTA data.

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28 March 2012

What Can You See in the Night Sky This Week? - Sirius!

Throughout the following days, look towards the South in the evening and you will see a sparkling gem - a bright star called Sirius. In fact, it happens to be the brightest* star you can see in the sky all year round. It is no wonder then that its name is derived from the ancient Greek for "glowing". If you are still not sure which star I am referring to, proceed by first finding the easily identifiable three stars that form Orion's belt (still looking towards the South), then imagine a line running through these and extrapolate it to your left.

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08 March 2012

What Can You See in the Night Sky This Week? - Mizar!

This week's "What's Up" features Mizar and its companion Alcor, a "sextuple star" that was the mediaeval Arabs' idea of an eye test, writes Phil Bull.

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08 March 2012

What Can You See in the Night Sky This Week? Polaris!

Polaris is best known for its position in the night sky: it always appears almost directly North. This is why it is commonly known as both the North Star and the Pole star. To find Polaris, draw a line from the two stars in The Plough which are furthest from its handle (see picture) and keep going; the next prominent star you see will be Polaris, writes David Sinclair.

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07 March 2012

Mayan astronomy for 2012: Looking ahead

The Maya were keen naked-eye astronomers, and made various observations that were startlingly accurate for their time. This year marks the end of the major cycle of the Mayan calendar, which was based on astronomical events. Some people have interpreted the ending of the cycle as a portent of doom, a prediction that the end of the world is upon us! This is nonsense, of course. Celia Escamilla Rivera, of the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, in Spain, takes us through the event from a Mayan perspective to discover the real significance of this event.

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24 February 2012

What Can You See in the Night Sky This Week? Algol!

Algol, otherwise known as the demon star, is a bright triplet star system located in the constellation Perseus, and can be seen by the naked eye. It takes light 93 years to travel from Algol to Earth, meaning that when you look at Algol, you are seeing it as it was in 1919! To give you an idea of what 93 light-years is in galactic terms, our closest stellar neighbour is Alpha Centauri, and is 4.4 light years from us, writes Paul Brook.

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16 February 2012

What Can You See in the Night Sky This Week? Jupiter!

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in our solar system - it weighs about two-and-a-half times as much as all the other planets put together! Given its massive size, it seems appropriate that it was named after the Roman king of the gods. This celestial god can be seen from sunset untill just before 10:00pm in the West, writes Tessa Baker.

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