What's New at The Royal Observatory

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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UK ATCBringing the James Webb Space Telescope to life in the UK

23rd August 2021

Two new dedicated fellows will help bring the science of the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) to schools, scientific communities and the public in the UK.

The two appointees are, Dr Emma Curtis-Lake from the University of Hertfordshire and Dr Olivia Jones from STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh.

As the once-in-a-generation spacecraft draws ever closer to launch, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has appointed the fellows to help: exploit the science from the mission and promote community engagement.

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Astronomy survey to revolutionise capability of understanding changing celestial phenomena

12th August 2021

UK project processing massive data stream from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile will take inventory of the Universe.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile will carry out the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) by constantly surveying the southern sky over a period of 10 years.

The Observatory consists of an 8-metre telescope, the largest digital camera ever constructed with 189 sensors totalling 3.2 gigapixels, a complex data processing system, and an online education platform. The survey will produce an image every minute, and every object that is variable, transient or moving will be catalogued and a constant data stream of these alerts will be produced.

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IFA LogoLive public debate on satellite megaconstellations

June 15th 2021 | 19:30-21:30 BST

Live public debate on the broader issues around satellite mega-constellations - effects on astronomical science as well as public stargazing, cultural and environmental issues, the debris problem, commercial competition and fairness, and space law and policy. The debate will be held between 38 invited experts, but will simultaneously be available livestreamed on Youtube, open to all. The event is meant to be understandable by the general public, but will also be of interest to professional astronomers and students.

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Major success for Edinburgh Astrophysicists with the James Webb Space Telescope

15th April 2021

Astrophysicists in the School of Physics & Astronomy have secured a spectacular series of observational programmes on the NASA/ESA (European Space Agency) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

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IFA LogoUltra-sensitive radio images reveal thousands of star-forming galaxies in early Universe

7th April 2021

An international team of astronomers has published the most sensitive images of the Universe ever taken at low radio frequencies, using the International Low Frequency Array (LOFAR). By observing the same regions of sky over and over again and combining the data to make a single very-long exposure image, the team has detected the faint radio glow of stars exploding as supernovae, in tens of thousands of galaxies out to the most distant parts of the Universe. A special issue of the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics is dedicated to fourteen research papers describing these images and the first scientific results.

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Triple success for astronomy researchers

1st December 2020

Congratulations to three researchers: Dr Adam Carnall, Dr Catherine Hale and Dr Tilman Troester, who have been awarded Early Career Fellowships.

The Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowships are intended to assist those at a relatively early stage of their academic careers to undertake a significant piece of publishable work.

All three researchers are based in the School’s Institute for Astronomy.

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IFA LogoPossible light sparked by colliding black holes

25th June 2020

Astronomers have seen what could be the first ever light flare detected from a black hole merger.

Their findings potentially create a new chapter within astrophysics because the merger of black holes was not expected to generate light waves, as the gravity associated with black holes is so great that nothing – not even light – usually escapes from them.

The study – published in Physical Review Letters – involved an international team of scientists, including physicists from the School of Physics and Astronomy.

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Astronomers measure wind speed on a brown dwarf

10th April 2020

Scientists have used a new technique to take the first-ever measurement of atmospheric wind speed outside the solar system.

A team of Astronomers, including the Institute for Astronomy’s Dr Beth Biller, have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to take the first measurement of wind speed on a brown dwarf - an object intermediate in mass between a planet and a star.

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IFA LogoScientists discover supernova that outshines all others

14th April 2020

A supernova which is at least twice as bright and energetic, and likely much more massive than any yet recorded, has been identified by a team of astronomers.

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Neil Turok, the Inaugural Higgs Chair of Theoretical Physics, brings in new focus on the quantum universe

28th January 2020

Professor Neil Turok, a world-leading researcher in theoretical physics and fundamental cosmology has been appointed as the Inaugural Higgs Chair by the University of Edinburgh. Professor Turok will be joining the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy starting July 2020.

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IFA LogoNew telescope instrument sheds light on Dark Energy

1st November 2019

Edinburgh scientists are taking part in the most detailed survey of the Universe ever undertaken.

The aim of the five-year programme is to shed light on Dark Energy – the mysterious force thought to be pushing galaxies apart and causing the Universe to expand at an accelerating rate.

The new telescope instrument effectively contains 5,000 mini-robots, each capable of measuring the light of far-away galaxies in 20 minutes.

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IFA LogoThe violent history of the big galaxy next door

3rd October 2019

Astronomers have pieced together the cannibalistic past of the neighbouring large galaxy Andromeda, which has set its sights on our Milky Way as the main course.

The galactic detective work found that Andromeda has eaten several smaller galaxies, likely within the last few billion years, with left-overs found in large streams of stars.

This study was led by Dr Dougal Mackey from the Australian National University (ANU) and Professor Geraint Lewis from the University of Sydney, and involves a team of researchers from across the globe, including Professor Annette Ferguson and Professor Jorge Penarrubia from the School’s Institute for Astronomy.

The international team also found evidence of more small galaxies that Andromeda gobbled up even earlier, perhaps as far back as during its first phases of formation about 10 billion years ago.

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IFA LogoDr Alex Amon wins the Royal Astronomical Society thesis prize

13th June 2019

Congratulations to Dr Alex Amon who has won this years Royal Astronomical Society Michael Penston thesis prize for her University of Edinburgh thesis entitled “Cosmology with the Kilo Degree Lensing Survey”.

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The winner of the 2019 Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship is Dr Anna Lisa Varri

10th June 2019

Congratulations to Dr Anna Lisa Varri who has won the 2019 Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship. The Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship supports promising female astronomers early in their careers.

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ROEProf Wayne Holland

31 May 2019

On the 22nd of May 2019 we lost one of the leading figures in submillimetre astronomy. Wayne Holland was a respected and much liked astronomer who will be sadly missed by his friends and colleagues. Wayne was one of those people who went out of his way to support and encourage others. He will be remembered fondly by the many astronomers who visited the JCMT, with Wayne as their support astronomer, benefitting from his constant nurturing of the SCUBA camera to ensure they got the best science from their observing run.

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Dr Anna Lisa Varri awarded Future Leaders Fellowship

13th May 2019

Congratulations to Dr Anna Lisa Varri who has been awarded one of the first UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowships which aim to grow the strong supply of talented individuals needed to ensure that UK research and innovation is world class. Anna Lisa's profile has also been selected by UKRI as one the twelve inaugural case studies.

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ROEExhibition charts the work of ‘Edinburgh’s Forgotten Astronomer’ Charles Piazzi Smyth

04 April 2019

A fascinating free new exhibition – part of a year-long series of events - opens in Edinburgh aiming to establish Charles Piazzi Smyth’s place in Edinburgh’s history. The exhibition, housed in Edinburgh’s iconic Nelson Monument on Calton Hill, presents Piazzi Smyth’s photography, paintings and drawings, alongside a newly commissioned short film and interviews in what will be the first major exhibition dedicated to Edinburgh’s forgotten astronomer.

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Successful IOP Juno Champion award renewal

20th February 2019

The School of Physics and Astronomy has had its status as Juno Champion renewed in recognition of our continuing efforts in addressing gender equality and fostering a more inclusive working environment.

Project Juno is a national scheme operated by the Institute of Physics (IOP) that recognizes and rewards physics departments that have taken action to address gender equality and to encourage better practice for all staff . The School was first awarded Juno Practitioner in 2010 and progressed to Juno Champion in 2014. The Juno Champion award and the Athena SWAN Silver award are reciprocal awards.

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IFA LogoAstronomers release first part of deep all-sky radio survey with LOFAR

19th February 2019

A major new radio sky survey has revealed hundreds of thousands of previously undetected galaxies, shedding new light on many research areas including the physics of black holes and how clusters of galaxies evolve.

An international team of more than 200 astronomers from 18 countries, in which Edinburgh astronomers play a leading role, has published the first phase of the survey at unprecedented sensitivity using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope.

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