Thursday, 28 April 2011

Exciting times for astronomy

The School of Physics and Astronomy have been in the news several times lately:
·         18th April – WASP-12b: A Magnetic Bow Shock. Aline Vidotto and colleagues, working with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, have been studying the exoplanet WASP-12b, a ‘hot Jupiter’, to investigate how planetary ‘bow shock’ can protect an exoplanet’s atmosphere from emissions for its host star.
·         19th April – Pluto has carbon monoxide in it atmosphere. A team of scientists led by Dr Jane Greaves have discovered carbon monoxide gas in the atmosphere of Pluto, after a worldwide search of nearly two decades. Pluto’s atmosphere, previously, was considered to be over a 100 km thick, but is now thought to be over 3,000 km. Unlike the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide acts as a coolant, while methane absorbs sunlight and so produces heating. The research could provide clues to help scientists better understand the Earth’s atmosphere. Video link.
·         20th April – Could black trees blossom in a world with two suns? Jack O'Malley-James, supervised by Dr Jane Greaves and others, has studied the potential for photosynthetic life in multi-star systems with different combinations of sun-like stars and red dwarfs. The simulations suggested that plants with dim red dwarf suns may appear black to our eyes, as they would absorb across the entire visible wavelength range.
·         21st April – Astronomers peer into the dark. Astronomers from SUPA, including Dr Aaron Robotham, have produced a completely new catalogue of approximately 15,000 groups of galaxies which gives new insight into dark matter, the material of unknown composition that makes up 20% of the mass of the Universe.