Latest MPIA Science Highlights

The latest research results at MPIA

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Original 1541689444

A Cold Super-Earth in our Neighbourhood

November 14, 2018
An international group of astronomers, involving the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, has succeeded in detecting a planet around Barnard's star, which is only six lightyears away. The planet has just over three times the mass of Earth and is slightly colder than Saturn. The discovery was made by measuring the periodic change in the radial velocity of the parent star. The spectrograph CARMENES, developed to a large part by the MPIA, played an important role in this discovery. [more]
Teaser 1537780666

Tracking the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua to its home

September 25, 2018
A team of astronomers led by Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has tracked the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua to several possible home stars. The object was discovered in late 2017 – this was the first time astronomers have been able to observe an astronomical object from another star system visiting our own Solar System. Bailer-Jones and his colleagues used data from the ESA astrometry satellite Gaia to find four plausible stars where ‘Oumuamua could have begun its long journey, more than a million years ago. [more]
Teaser 1532608878

Testing the predictions of general relativity near the Milky Way’s central black hole

July 26, 2018
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]
Original 1530018504

Detecting the boiling atmosphere of the hottest known exoplanet

July 02, 2018
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]
Teaser 1530099589

Astronomers Witness the Birth of a Planet

July 02, 2018
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]
Original 1524742578

Gaia data release provides most complete census of stars yet, draws dust map of Milky Way

April 25, 2018
The new data release of ESA’s Gaia satellite, published today, not only includes data that allows astronomers to compute accurate distances for 1.33 billion stars. Researchers based at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have also used Gaia’s measurements to derive the physical properties of almost 80 million stars, making this the largest stellar census yet. At the same time, the analysis provides the most detailed three-dimensional map of dust in our home galaxy yet, which promises to put the analysis of celestial objects on a more solid footing than before. [more]
Original 1518507589

Stars Around the Milky Way: Cosmic Space Invaders or Victims of Galactic Eviction?

February 26, 2018
Astronomers have investigated a small population of stars in the halo of the Milky Way Galaxy, finding its chemical composition to closely match that of the Galactic disk. This similarity provides compelling evidence that these stars have originated from within the disc, rather than from merged dwarf galaxies. The reason for this stellar migration is thought to be theoretically proposed oscillations of the Milky Way disc as a whole, induced by the tidal interaction of the Milky Way with a passing massive satellite galaxy. [more]
Teaser 1517401664

How black holes shape the cosmos

February 01, 2018
Astrophysicists from Heidelberg, Garching, and the USA gained new insights into the formation and evolution of galaxies. They calculated how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed throughout the cosmos, and where magnetic fields originate. This was possible by developing and programming a new simulation model for the universe, which created the most extensive simulations of this kind to date.First results of the "IllustrisTNG" project have now been published in three articles in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. These findings should help to answer fundamental questions in cosmology. [more]
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]
 
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