Latest MPIA Science Highlights

The latest research results at MPIA

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Teaser 1475071945

Spiral arms in protoplanetary disk: They're not just for galaxies any more

September 29, 2016
Astronomers have found distinct spiral arms in the disk of gas and dust surrounding the young star Elias 2-27. While similar features have been observed on the surfaces of such disks before, this is the first time they have been identified within the disk, where planet formation takes place. Structures such as these could either indicate the presence of a newly formed planet, or else create the necessary conditions for a planet to form. As such, the results are a crucial step towards a better understanding how planetary systems like our Solar system came into being. The results have been published in the journal Science. [more]
Teaser 1474462380

Reconstructing the cosmic history of star formation: ALMA takes stock of the fuel for star formation in distant galaxies

September 22, 2016
A study by a large international team led by Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, using the millimeter telescope ALMA, has traced the raw building blocks of star formation back in time to an era about 2 billion years after the big bang, yielding clues as to the history of star formation in our universe. The study targeted one of the best studied regions of the sky: the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), first imaged in depth by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2003/2004. This is the first time a millimeter wave image that includes spectral information has been taken of this portion of the HUDF, sufficient to show galaxies whose light took up to 11 billion light years to reach us.  [more]
Teaser 1471848835

Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Nearest Star

August 24, 2016
Astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting the nearest star outside our solar system, Proxima Centauri. The planet, designated Proxima Centauri b, is in the habitable zone of its star, where liquid water could exist. The discovery is the result of a patient search using the radial velocity method, which searches for tiny wobbles of a star caused by an orbiting planet. In addition to newly acquired data, the analysis uses spectra taken by MPIA astronomer Martin Kürster and colleagues between 2000 and 2007. [more]
Teaser 1468944453

Gigantic X-shaped structure throws (infrared) light on Galactic history

July 19, 2016
Two astronomers have produced the first direct images of a gigantic X-shaped distribution of stars in the center of the Milky Way. The collaboration shows the value of open science: it began when Dustin Lang (University of Toronto) tweeted an image he had recently created. From the tweet, Melissa Ness (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) recognized the image's significance for reconstructing the history of our home galaxy. The X-shaped distribution indicates that the bulge of stars surrounding the center of the galactic disk was formed through dynamical interactions of stars, not by the merger of smaller galaxies with our own. [more]
Teaser 1462263848

The secret life of the Orion Nebula: Dancing filaments and a possible new way to form large star clusters

May 11, 2016
Whole clusters of stars, including some of the most massive specimens, can form in comparatively short time. Based on an examination of a filament of gas and dust that includes the well-known Orion nebula, Amelia Stutz and Andrew Gould of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy propose a new model for this quick mode of star formation. They provide evidence that the filament in question is a flexible structure, held together by gravity and stabilized by magnetic fields, and undulating back and forth. This and the locations and properties of nearby star clusters suggest instabilities similar to those known in plasma physics could be responsible for the quick formation of star clusters. [more]
Teaser 1460659285

A nursery for Earths or Super-Earths: Most detailed image yet of inner regions of protoplanetary disk

March 31, 2016
For the first time, observations of a protoplanetary disk around a distant star have shown structures as small (astronomically speaking) as the inner Solar system. The observations show an infant planetary system around the star TW Hydrae: a protoplanetary disk with ring-like structures, separated by gaps that could indicate the presence of planets. The images, taken with the ALMA observatory, show details in the inner part of the protoplanetary disk, including a gap at the same distance from the star as Earth is from the Sun. This gap could indicate the presence of a planet on an Earth-like orbit around TW Hydrae. [more]
Teaser 1458223732

Sharp pictures of planetary embryo show ultra-quick mode of planet formation

March 17, 2016
Observations using the VLA radio telescope array in New Mexico show the innermost portion of a planetary birthplace around the young star HL Tauri in unprecedented detail. Clearly visible is a lump of dust with 3 to 8 times the mass of the Earth, which represents the ideal conditions for the formation of a planet: a planetary nursery with sufficient building material for a planet somewhere between the mass of our own Earth and that of Neptune. The presence of a lump points towards a solution for a fundamental problem of planet formation: how planets can form on the limited time scale available for such processes. [more]
Teaser 1456758367

Searching for the extraterrestrials who might have found us first

March 01, 2016
A small band in the sky has been identified in which extraterrestrial astronomers could have discovered Earth transiting the Sun. The search for their messages can now be made much more efficient. [more]
Teaser 1454713378

Witnessing the wild phase of star formation

February 05, 2016
Have you ever seen a stellar embryo? A research team that includes an MPIA astronomer has inspected the birth places of stars: the FU Orionis objects, a class of very young stellar objects. These protostars are surrounded by large asymmetrical disks, indicating a short, violent episode during the early formation of the star. By employing the 8m Subaru Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii, four of those disks have now been imaged with extreme resolution, thereby allowing the astronomers to identify their structure. The results are being published in the journal 'Science Advances'. [more]
Teaser 1454491067

Ultracool disk around young star contains dusty surprises

February 03, 2016
While the circumstellar disk in question has been nicknamed "the Flying Saucer," what is most mysterious about it are not extraterrestrials, but tiny particles of cosmic dust. An unusual new measurement of the disk's dust temperature using the ALMA observatory has yielded surprisingly low values, a mere 7 degrees above absolute zero (7 K). The astronomers, including Dmitry Semenov of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, found that the only viable explanations involve unusual properties of the disk's dust grains. With these unusual properties, dust disks could be quite generally more massive than previously thought, with consequences for the types of planets that can be born in such disks. [more]
Teaser 1452713358

Light and Darkness after the Big Bang: Compact galaxies reheated the early universe

January 13, 2016
What brought the dark ages directly following the Big Bang to an end? So-called "green pea" galaxies, which produce intensive UV radiation, are considered a possible explanation. Now researchers have examined a green pea in detail and found that it indeed emits sufficient radiation to explain cosmic reionization: The transition when most of the intergalactic hydrogen in the universe became separated into protons and electrons, starting 150 million years after the Big Bang. The result contributes to our knowledge about one of the least-known epochs of the universe, and has been published in the January 14 edition of the journal Nature. [more]
Teaser 1452267854

Making (galactic) history with big data: First global age map of the Milky Way

January 08, 2016
Using completely new ways of deducing the ages of so-called red giant stars from observational data, astronomers have created the first large-scale map that shows stellar ages in the Milky Way. Determining the ages of nearly 100 000 red giant stars, at distances of up to 50 000 light-years from the galactic center, the astronomers, led by Melissa Ness and Marie Martig of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, were able to test key ideas about the growth of the Milky Way. Notably, the map confirms that our home galaxy has grown inside out: in the present epoch, most old stars can be found in the middle, more recently formed ones in the outskirts. [more]
Teaser 1445935092

How stars grow into heavyweights: Astronomers find disk around young massive star

October 29, 2015
How do stars reach masses more than 100 times the mass of the Sun? It has long been suspected that gas and dust disks circlingyoung stars could play a role, funneling matter onto what will become some of the most massive stars known. Now, a teaminvolving MPIA astronomers has for the first time detected a stable disk around one of the most massive newly-forming stars in the Galaxy. Their work is published on October 29, 2015, in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. [more]
Teaser 1445934904

Astronomers find unusual moving structures in dust disk around star

October 07, 2015
Using the instrument SPHERE and the Hubble Space Telescope, a team that includes MPIA astronomers have identified unusual moving features in the dust disk surrounding the nearby star AU Microscopii. This is the first observation of such structures changing over time, and at present, the nature and origin of the features is unclear. The features could be linked to eruptions of the star AU Mic, or to (as yet unseen) planets hidden within the dust disk. The results are being published in the October 8, 2015 edition of the journal Nature. [more]
Teaser 1431628463

Against all Odds: Astronomers Baffled by Discovery of Rare Quasar Quartet

May 14, 2015
Using the W.M.  Keck observatory in Hawaii, a group of astronomers led by Joseph Hennawi of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have discovered the first quadruple quasar: four rare active black holes situated in close proximity to one another. The quartet resides in one of the most massive structures ever discovered in the distant universe, and is surrounded by a giant nebula of cool dense gas. Either the discovery is a one-in-ten-million coincidence, or cosmologists need to rethink their models of quasar evolution and the formation of the most massive cosmic structures. The results are being published in the May 15, 2015 edition of the journal Science. [more]
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