Latest MPIA Science Highlights

The latest research results at MPIA

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Teaser 1514969263

Library of galaxy histories reconstructed from motions of stars

January 03, 2018
The motions of stars in a galaxy are like a history book, yielding information about how the galaxy has grown over time. Now a group of astronomers has assembled a library of such galaxy history books. Their data for 300 galaxies showcases the diversity of the various ways different galaxies came into being over the past billions of years. This is the first large-scale library of galactic histories, and it is particularly important for astronomers running simulations of cosmic structure formation – since those simulations can now be checked against a large set of observations. The results have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy on January 1, 2018. [more]
Teaser 1514899658

Observations link galaxy's central black holes and star formation

January 01, 2018
Astronomers have found the first direct observational evidence for a long-suspected link between galaxies' central black holes and the rate at which stars form throughout a galaxy's history. To this end, the astronomers made use of a survey of black hole masses and reconstructed each galaxy's star formation history from its spectrum. Black hole mass and star formation rate were clearly linked, confirming a connection that had been assumed to exist for a considerable time. The results have been published in the journal Nature. [more]
Teaser 1512382624

The most distant black hole in the cosmos: quasar at a distance of 13 billion light-years discovered

December 06, 2017
Astronomers have discovered the most distant quasar known, which is so far from us that its light has taken more than 13 billion years to reach us. We see this quasar as it was a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, and its light carries valuable information about the early history of the universe, in particular the reionization phase. At the center of the quasar is a massive black hole with a mass of almost 1 billion solar masses. In addition, the quasar's host galaxy has been found to contain a large amount of gas and dust, challenging models of galactic evolution. The results have now been published in Nature and in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. [more]
Teaser 1512382721

Traces of life on nearest exoplanets may be hidden in equatorial trap, study finds

November 29, 2017
Simulations show that the search for life on other planets may well be more difficult than previously assumed: On planets like Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1d, unusual flow pattern could hide atmospheric ozone from telescopic observations. Ozone, which is a variety of oxygen, is seen as one of the possible traces allowing for the detection of life on another planet from afar.  The simulations, led by Ludmila Carone of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, have consequences for formulating the optimal strategy for searching for (oxygen-producing) life such as bacteria or plants on exoplanets. [more]
Teaser 1507206533

Astronomers discover unusual spindle-like galaxies  

October 12, 2017
Galaxies are majestic, rotating wheels of stars? Not in the case of the spindle-like galaxies studied by Athanasia Tsatsi (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and her colleagues. Using the CALIFA survey, the astronomers found that these slender galaxies, which rotate along their longest axis, are much more common than previously thought. The new data allowed the astronomers to create a model for how these unusual galaxies probably formed, namely out of a special kind of merger of two spiral galaxies. The results have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. [more]
Teaser 1506496706

Bringing the building blocks of life down to Earth, from space

October 02, 2017
Astronomers from McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have completed calculations that lead to a consistent scenario for the emergence of life on Earth, based on astronomical, geological, chemical and biological models. In this scenario, life forms a mere few hundred million years after Earth’s surface was cool enough for liquid water; the essential building blocks for life were formed in space during the formation of the solar system, and delivered to warm little ponds on Earth by meteorites. The new results have been published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences. [more]
Teaser 1503584939

Heavy stellar traffic, deflected comets, and a closer look at the triggers of cosmic disaster

August 31, 2017
As stars pass close by our solar system, they can nudge comets from the distant Oort cloud into the inner regions around the Sun. Thus, stellar encounters are an important factor in determining the risk of large cosmic impacts on Earth. Now, Coryn Bailer-Jones from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has used data from the ESA satellite Gaia to give the first systematic estimate of the rate of such close stellar encounters. Every million years, up to two dozen stars pass within a few light-years of the Sun, making for a near-constant state of perturbation. The results have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. [more]
Teaser 1503585047

Odd planetary system around fast-spinning star doesn't quite fit existing models of planet formation

July 06, 2017
Astronomers have discovered a rare, warm, massive Jupiter-like planet orbiting a star that is rotating extremely quickly. The discovery raises puzzling questions about planet formation – neither the planet's comparatively small mass nor its large distance from its host star are expected according to current models. The observations that led to the discovery were made using the SPHERE instrument at ESO's very large telescope. The article describing the results has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. [more]
Teaser 1495531188

Newly discovered fast-growing galaxies could solve cosmic riddle – and show ancient cosmic merger

May 24, 2017
Astronomers have discovered a new kind of galaxy in the early universe, less than a billion years after the Big Bang. These galaxies are forming stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way. The discovery could explain an earlier finding: a population of suprisingly massive galaxies at a time 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, which would require such hyper-productive precursors to grow their hundreds of billions of stars. The observations also show what appears to be the earliest image of galaxies merging. The results, by a group of astronomers led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, have been published in the 25 May issue of the journal Nature. [more]
Teaser 1494935779

First radio detection of lonely planet disk shows similarities between stars and planet-like objects

May 18, 2017
First radio observations of the lonely, planet-like object OTS44 reveal a dusty protoplanetary disk that is very similar to disks around young stars. This is unexpected, given that models of star and planet formation predict that formation from a collapsing cloud, forming a central object with surrounding disk, should not be possible for such low-mass objects. Apparently, stars and planet-like objects are more similar than previously thought. The finding, by an international team led by Amelia Bayo and including several astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, has been published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. [more]
Teaser 1494256831

Discovery in the early universe poses black hole growth puzzle

May 11, 2017
Quasars are luminous objects with supermassive black holes at their centers, visible over vast cosmic distances. Infalling matter increases the black hole mass and is also responsible for a quasar's brightness. Now, using the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii, astronomers led by Christina Eilers have discovered extremely young quasars with a puzzling property: these quasars have the mass of about a billion suns, yet have been collecting matter for less than 100,000 years. Conventional wisdom says quasars of that mass should have needed to pull in matter a thousand times longer than that – a cosmic conundrum. The results have been published in the May 2 edition of the Astrophysical Journal. [more]
Teaser 1511170895

New astronomical survey to monitor the entire sky

May 03, 2017
A new sky survey, the Sloan digital Sky Survey V (SDSS-V) has received funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, allowing the survey to go ahead in 2020. The survey is led by Juna Kollmeier of the Carnegie Institution for Science, with project scientist Hans-Walter Rix of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. SDSS-V will be the first survey on Earth to take spectra of objects across the entire sky, and will do so repeatedly.  This will create an immense treasure trove of data that allows for detailed statistical studies of astronomical objects and their variability. [more]
Teaser 1492769167

Ripples in Cosmic Web Measured Using Rare Double Quasars

April 27, 2017
Astronomers believe that matter in intergalactic space is distributed in a vast network of interconnected filamentary structures known as the cosmic web. Nearly all the atoms in the Universe reside in this web, vestigial material left over from the Big Bang. A team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have made the first measurements of small-scale fluctuations in the cosmic web just 2 billion years after the Big Bang. These measurements were enabled by a novel technique using pairs of quasars to probe the cosmic web along adjacent, closely separated lines of sight. They promise to help astronomers reconstruct an early chapter of cosmic history known as the epoch of reionization. The results are being published in the April 28 edition of the journal Science. [more]
Teaser 1488968507

Atmosphere around low-mass Super-Earth detected

April 06, 2017
Astronomers have detected an atmosphere around the super-Earth GJ 1132b. This marks the first detection of an atmosphere around a low-mass Super-Earth, in terms of radius and mass the most Earth-like planet around which an atmosphere has yet been detected. Thus, this is a significant step on the path towards the detection of life on an exoplanet. The team, which includes researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, used the 2.2 m ESO/MPG telescope in Chile to take images of the planet’s host star GJ 1132, and measuring the slight decrease in brightness as the planet and its atmosphere absorbed some of the starlight while passing directly in front of their host star. [more]
Teaser 1487230126

Radio astronomers tune in to the star formation channel

February 21, 2017
Some galaxies produce copious amounts of new stars. Others are less productive. Now, a team of astronomers led by Fatemeh Tabatabaei (Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias) has developed a method to measure the rate at which galaxies form new stars, using radio observations. The scientists made use of a sample of 52 nearby galaxies that were observed with the Effelsberg 100-m radio telescope at different wavelengths. Star formation rates are a key property of galaxies, and changes in the average star formation rate are an important aspect of the overall evolution of our universe. [more]
 
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