What's New at The Royal Observatory

IFA LogoDormant massive black hole spotted in the Milky Way

16 April 2024

Scientists working on data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope have uncovered a ‘sleeping’ giant: a large black hole, with a mass of nearly 33 times the mass of the Sun, hiding in the constellation Aquila, less than 2000 light-years from Earth.

This is the first time a black hole of stellar origin this big has been spotted so close to home, which will enable detailed follow up by the astronomical community.

The discovery challenges our understanding of how massive stars develop and evolve.

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Euclid satellite explores mysteries of the dark Universe

3rd July 2023

Edinburgh astronomers have played a key role in preparing the satellite – known as Euclid – for its six-year space exploration that could revolutionise scientists’ understanding of the cosmos.

From its final position one million miles from earth, Euclid’s powerful two-tonne telescope will examine around 1.5 billion galaxies, across one third of the sky – creating the largest and most accurate 3D map of the Universe ever produced.

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IFA LogoAncient galaxy revealed by space telescope

22 May 2023

Astronomers using the most powerful telescope ever built have identified a massive, densely packed galaxy 25 billion light years away.

The galaxy – known as GS-9209 – formed just 600 to 800 million years after the Big Bang, and is the earliest of its kind found to date, researchers say.

A team led by researchers from the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh has used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to reveal in detail the properties of GS-9209 for the first time.

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Astronomers reveal the largest cosmic explosion ever seen

12th May 2023

A team of astronomers have uncovered the largest cosmic explosion ever witnessed.

The explosion is more than ten times brighter than any known supernova (exploding star) and three times brighter than the brightest tidal disruption event, where a star falls into a supermassive black hole.

The explosion, known as AT2021lwx, has currently lasted over three years, compared to most supernovae which are only visibly bright for a few months. It took place nearly 8 billion light years away, when the universe was around 6 billion years old, and is still being detected by a network of telescopes.

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IFA LogoResearch award success for Jim Dunlop

1 February 2023

Congratulations to Jim Dunlop, Head of School and Professor of Extragalactic Astronomy, who has been awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship.

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Astronomy award recognition for John Peacock

13th January 2023

Congratulations to Professor Peacock who has received the Royal Astronomical Society’s highest honour for his contributions to cosmology.

The Royal Astronomical Society has announced the 2023 winners of its awards, medals and prizes in recognition of significant achievement, from research to education and outreach, in the fields of astronomy and geophysics.

The Society's highest honour, its Gold Medal in Astronomy, is awarded this year to Professor John Peacock of the University of Edinburgh, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to cosmology. His work ranges from studying the early abundance of galaxies with actively fuelled central supermassive black holes, to the formation of cosmological large-scale structure and its relation to the clustering of galaxies.

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IFA LogoThe most distant galaxy discovered by Edinburgh astronomers

28 July 2022

Observations from the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed the most distant galaxy so far. A team of astronomers led by the University of Edinburgh have discovered what they believe is the most distant galaxy ever observed.

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Comet chaser mission moves from blueprint to reality

13th June 2022

The Comet Interceptor mission, which will further our understanding of the evolution of comets and will help solve some of the mysteries of the Universe, has been formally adopted by the European Space Agency (ESA). Due for launch in 2029, the mission will see one main spacecraft and two robotic probes travel to an as-yet unidentified comet and map it in three dimensions. The mission was first proposed by an international team led by University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in Surrey and the University of Edinburgh. Professor Colin Snodgrass, who is based at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Astronomy, was deputy lead on the proposal, and leads the target selection team that is working to identify suitable comets.

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IFA LogoA massive new harvest of astronomical data

June 13th 2022

On June 13th 2022 the European Space Agency releases a new tranche of processed data from the Gaia space observatory to the world scientific community. The release incorporates a rich variety of position, distance, spectroscopic and classification information for hundreds of thousands of solar system objects, 1.6 billion stars (including nearly ten million variable types and one million binaries), and millions of candidate galaxies and distant quasars. The spectroscopy alone amounts to some 220 million individual spectra, by far the largest haul of such data ever assembled. The data release is the result of several years’ work by hundreds of European scientists including a team at the Institute for Astronomy, based in the School of Physics and Astronomy.

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Heavens need environmental protection like the Earth, experts say

25th April 2022

Space urgently needs special legal protection similar to that given to land, sea and atmosphere to protect its fragile environment, a study argues.

An influx of space debris in orbital space – around 100 kilorrmeters above the earth’s surface – caused by the rapid growth of so-called satellite mega-constellations is endangering this precious ecosystem, researchers say.

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