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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]
Teaser 1429519733

An image of a whole planetary system

April 20, 2015
An international team of astronomers which includes six researchers from MPIA has taken an image showing four planets in the system around the star HR8799. The astronomers made use of the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona. [more]
Teaser 1426604844

Galactic "rocket engine" explains unusual stellar motion in galaxies

March 19, 2015
A discovery by MPIA graduate student Athanasia Tsatsi has changed astronomers' understanding of how mergers of two galaxies can produce unusual stellar motion in the resulting elliptical galaxies, with the central region rotating in the direction opposite to that of the galaxy's other stars. Previously, such differences had been thought to be the result of an opposite ("retrograde") orientation of the galaxies prior to their merger. Looking at a simulation of a galaxy merger, Tsatsi discovered a different way of bringing about such counter-rotating cores, which involve mass loss from the bodies of these galaxies acting as a primitive galactic "rocket engine". [more]
Teaser 1429185975

Dust Disks Survive Cosmic Firework Near Young Massive Stars

March 10, 2015
Astronomers have discovered dust disks around stars in stellar clusters that recently formed near the center of the Milky Way. Because these young clusters contain very hot stars that generate energetic, intense Ultraviolet radiation, such dust disks, the sites of planet formation around young stars, were previously thought to be rapidly destroyed. The discovery that these disks can survive such hot environments much longer holds new information on when and how planets may have formed, especially billions of years ago when galaxies formed stars at a much higher rate than today and similarly extreme conditions were far more prevalent than in today’s universe. [more]
Teaser 1423730318

Astronomers close in on planets that could be masters of survival

February 12, 2015
Two independent groups of astronomers, one led by Simona Ciceri of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, have discovered an unusually massive planet which orbits a red giant star. The planet, Kepler-432b, is one of a total of just five known planets which orbit red giant stars at a fairly close distance. Previously, it had been thought that such planets would be swallowed by their host stars fairly quickly; the new discovery indicates they might survive for longer than previously thought. [more]
Teaser 1414684950

'CT Scan' of Distant Universe Reveals Cosmic Web in 3D

October 16, 2014
A team led by astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has created the first three-dimensional map of the 'adolescent' Universe, just 3 billion years after the Big Bang. Applying a new technique analogous to x-ray computer-tomographic (CT) imaging used in medicine, the researchers measured the light from a dense grid of distant background galaxies probing the Universe from multiple locations, and then combined the data to construct a 3-D map of the intervening matter. This map, millions of light years across, provides a tantalizing glimpse of large structures in the 'cosmic web', which forms the backbone of cosmic structure. [more]
Teaser 1415272808

Uncloaking the King of the Milky Way: The Largest Star in our Home Galaxy's Largest Stellar Nursery

August 28, 2014
Astronomers led by Shiwei Wu of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have identified the most massive star in our home galaxy's largest stellar nursery, the star-forming region W49. The star, named W49nr1, has a mass between 100 and 180 times the mass of the Sun. Only a few dozen of these very massive stars have been identified so far. As seen from Earth, W49 is obscured by dense clouds of dust, and the astronomers had to rely on near-infrared images from ESO's New Technology Telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope to obtain suitable data. The discovery is hoped to shed light on the formation of massive stars, and on the role they play in the biggest star clusters. [more]
Teaser 1414686051

Doomed Planet Confirmed

August 08, 2014
Kepler-91b is doomed: In an estimated 55 million years it will be engulfed by its host star, a red giant. Recent studies, though, suggested a completely different type of doom, claiming there might not be such a thing as the planet Kepler-91b at all. Instead, according to those studies, what had been observed might instead be a fairly dim star. Now new observations with the CAFE spectrograph at Calar Alto observatory have settled the case: Kepler-91b is indeed a planet. The result also validates the method used for the original detection, an unusually detailed analysis of light received from the planet's host star. [more]
Teaser 1414080380

Finding the "Recipe for Star Formation"

April 10, 2014
Astronomers have found a new way of predicting the rate at which a molecular cloud – a stellar nursery – will form new stars. Using a novel technique to reconstruct a cloud's three-dimensional structure, the astronomers can estimate how many new stars the cloud is likely to form. The newfound "recipe" allows for direct tests of current theories of star formation. [more]
Teaser 1397457892

Where Little Galaxies Come from

February 23, 2014
Galaxies grow by attracting and ingesting smaller galaxies, or by merging with galaxies of comparable size. Now, a team of astronomers, including Glenn van de Ven from the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy, have identified the smallest example of a remnant of such a galactic merger: the dwarf spheroidal galaxy Andromeda II (AndII). [more]
Teaser 1397473566

First Surface map of a Brown Dwarf Shows Extraterrestrial Weather Patterns

January 29, 2014
Astronomers have presented the first detailed study of the atmospheric features – the extraterrestrial weather patterns – of a brown dwarf (an object intermediate between planets and stars). The results include the first surface map of a brown dwarf and measurements at different wavelengths probing the atmosphere at different depths. [more]
Teaser 1397483282

Black Hole Powers 'Cosmic Flashlight' Illuminating the Cosmic Web

January 19, 2014
Matter in intergalactic space is distributed in a vast network of interconnected filamentary structures known as the cosmic web. The vast majority of atoms in the Universe reside in this web as primordial hydrogen, vestigial matter left over from the Big Bang. Now, for the first time, researchers have captured an image of the cosmic web. [more]
Teaser 1438688425

Cloud atlas reshapes astronomers' views of stellar birthplaces

December 10, 2013
A multi-year study of the Whirlpool galaxy (M51) has shaken up astronomers' views of the properties of giant molecular clouds. The new study, which mapped 1,500 such clouds, shows that, instead, they are embedded in a kind of fog of molecular hydrogen much more dense than anyone expected, which permeates the whole of the galactic disc. Pressure exerted by this fog is crucial in determining whether or not new stars will form within the clouds. The study, led by Eva Schinnerer from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, made extensive use of the millimeter telescopes of IRAM, the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique. [more]
Teaser 1438688871

A rare snapshot of a planetary construction site

October 24, 2013
Planets are formed in disks of gas and dust around nascent stars. Now, combined observations with the compound telescope ALMA and the Herschel Space Observatory have produced a rare view of a planetary construction site in an intermediate state of evolution: Contrary to expectations, the disk around the star HD 21997 appears to contain both primordial gas left over from the formation of the star itself and dust that appears to have been produced in collisions between planetesimals – small rocks that are the building blocks for the much larger planets. This is the first direct observation of such a "hybrid disk", and likely to require a revision of current models of planet formation. [more]
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