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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]
Teaser 1438691886

Most distant gravitational lens helps weigh galaxies
– but also deepens a galactic mystery

October 17, 2013
A team of astronomers led by Arjen van der Wel from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) has found the most distant gravitational lens yet – a galaxy that, as predicted by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, deflects and intensifies the light of an even more distant object. The discovery provides a rare opportunity to directly measure the mass of a distant galaxy. But it also poses a mystery: Lenses of this kind should be exceedingly rare. Given this and recent other finds, astronomers either have been phenomenally lucky – or, more likely, they have underestimated substantially the number of small, very young galaxies in the early universe. [more]
Teaser 1438691788

Blurring the lines between stars and planets:
Lonely planets offer clues to star formation

October 09, 2013
Astronomers including Niall Deacon of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) captured an image of an unusual free-floating planet. As the object has no host star, it can be observed and examined much easier than planets orbiting stars, promising insight into the details of planetary atmospheres. Can an object with as low a mass as this have formed directly, in the same way that stars form? Independent observations by a group led by MPIA's Viki Joergens suggest that this is the case: They discovered that a similar but much younger free-floating object is drawing material from its surrounding just like a young star. This has important consequences for star formation models in general. [more]
Teaser 1438691722

Astronomers Observe Distant Galaxy Powered by Primordial Cosmic Fuel

October 02, 2013
Astronomers have detected cold streams of primordial hydrogen, vestigial matter left over from the Big Bang, fueling a distant star-forming galaxy in the early Universe. Profuse flows of gas onto galaxies are believed to be crucial for explaining an era 10 billion years ago, when galaxies were copiously forming stars. To make this discovery, the astronomers – a team led by Neil Crighton (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and Swinburne University) – made use of a cosmic coincidence: a bright, distant quasar acting as a "cosmic lighthouse" illuminates the gas flow from behind. Their results have just been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. [more]
Teaser 1438691603

One step closer to imaging distant Solar systems: Subaru telescope snaps image of "cold Jupiter" GJ 504 b

August 05, 2013
A group of astronomers including scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has taken an important step towards producing images of distant planetary systems that are similar to our own Solar system: Using the Subaru telescope on Hawai'i, they took an image of the jupiter-like planet GJ 504b. This is the first image of a planet orbiting a Sun-like star (spectral type G), and it is the coldest and could also be the lightest planet yet imaged. [more]
Teaser 1438691556

Star-formation like there is no tomorrow: NGC 253 and the limits to galactic growth

July 24, 2013
Astronomers have long assumed that when a galaxy produces too many stars too quickly, it greatly reduces its capacity for producing stars in the future. Now, a group of astronomers that includes Fabian Walter from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy were able to obtain the first detailed images of this type of self-limiting galactic behavior: an outflow of molecular gas, the raw material needed for star formation, that is coming from star-forming regions in the Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253). The study, which uses the newly commissioned telescope array ALMA in Chile, is published in the journal Nature on July 25, 2013. [more]
Teaser 1438691507

The most exciting candidates for habitable exoplanets yet

April 18, 2013
An international team of scientists analyzing data from NASA's Kepler mission, which includes Lisa Kaltenegger from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, has announced the discovery of the first small, potentially rocky Kepler planets, orbiting in the Habitable Zone of their star. The planets, called Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, orbit a star that is slightly smaller and cooler than our own Sun. Going by their radii, these planets should be rocky, making them our best candidates for habitable planets out there yet. Analysis by Dr. Kaltenegger indicates that both planets lie in their host star's habitable zone – where liquid water is possible, the necessary precondition for life as we know it. [more]
Teaser 1438691447

Pinpointing the most fertile galaxies in the universe

April 17, 2013
Using the compound telescope ALMA, a team of researchers has pinpointed the positions of more than 100 of the most fertile star-forming galaxies. The precise position measurements clear up a mystery about the observed productivity of these objects. They also show that previous studies of these objects have often suffered from mis-identifications, and how precise measurements like these new results avoid this kind of error. [more]
Teaser 1438691377

In Orion, Herschel finds the youngest stars yet

March 19, 2013
A group of astronomers led by Amelia Stutz of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg has used both the Herschel Space Observatory and the submillimeter telescope APEX to discover and characterize the youngest known protostars yet: stellar embryos still deeply embedded in unexpectedly dense dust cocoons. The discovery promises new insights into the earliest stages of star formation, and consequently into the way our home star, the Sun, came into being. The work will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. [more]
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