Press Releases

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

For the first time, astronomers have clearly detected the effects predicted by general relativity for the orbit of a star around the central supermassive black hole of our home galaxy. The measurements took advantage of the closest approach of one particular star to the black hole in May 2018. The required high precision was provided by the GRAVITY instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which exploits the wave properties of light to allow for highly accurate relative positions of point sources. more

Astronomers have found that the atmosphere of the hottest known exoplanet, the hot Jupiter-like planet KELT-9b, is "boiling off," with the escaping gas being captured by the host star. Using the CARMENES instrument at Calar Alto Observatory, Fei Yan and Thomas Henning of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg were able to detect the escaping hydrogen atmosphere of the planet. Their observations indicate a spread-out hydrogen envelope that is being pulled towards the host star.  more

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg and the SPHERE instrument consortium at the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile have discovered and characterised an extremely young exoplanet in a state of its formation. This gas giant with the designation PDS 70 b, with a mass equivalent to several Jupiters, was detected orbiting the star PDS 70 within a gap of its protoplanetary disk. This means that PDS 70 b is still in the vicinity of its birth place and likely still accumulating material. The observations provide a unique opportunity to test models of planet formation, and to learn about the early history of planetary systems, including our own solar system. more

Astronomers have detected three-dimensional structures in the protoplanetary disk around the young star TW Hydrae. Their pioneering reconstruction uses both the light reflected by dust and light emitted by certain gas molecules to reconstruct the disk’s physical structure – a step forward from previous images of such disks that could not distinguish density variations from chemical or thermodynamic patterns. The pattern, a ring-shaped gap, could either indicate the presence of a planet or instabilities that could form a planet. more

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

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

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