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STFC Island Site Telescopes: Response From The Royal Astronomical Society


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) today expressed deep regret at the decision of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to end support for two major astronomical telescopes. The decision, a consequence of ongoing real terms cuts to the UK science budget by the Government, will almost certainly see the Hawaii-based UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) cease operations in the autumn of 2013 and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) do the same a year later, with the loss of around 40 jobs.

The Society however welcomed the decision to seek to continue UK involvement in the William Herschel Telescope (WHT), sited on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, which observes the sky in visible light. Without the WHT, UK astronomers would have been in the odd position of being unable to observe the northern hemisphere of the sky – in other words many of the stars and galaxies above our heads – at optical wavelengths. This access is also critical for instrument development and for observations that complement new radio observatories like the pan-European LOFAR array.

Full Story: http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/219-news-2012/2131-stfc-island-site-telescopes-response-from-the-royal-astronomical-society

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Shooting Stars: Global Search for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012 Begins

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

The Royal Observatory Greenwich, in association with Sky at Night Magazine, launches its 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Yearcompetition today – kicking off its annual global search for the most beautiful and spectacular visions of the cosmos, whether they are striking pictures of vast galaxies millions of light years away, or dramatic images of the night sky taken much closer to home.

Entries to the competition must be submitted by midday on 29 June 2012 and the winning images will be showcased in the annual free exhibition at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from 21 September 2012 to February 2013. Last year the competition, which was first launched in 2009, attracted a record number of entries with over 700 spectacular images submitted from around the world. The competition also saw its first UK overall winner, as amateur astronomer Damian Peach scooped the top prize for his incredibly detailed shot of Jupiter along with two of its 64 known moons, Io and Ganymede, showing the surface of the gas giant streaked with colourful bands and dotted with huge oval storms. Sir Patrick Moore, who is one of the competition judges, was impressed by the quality of entries describing Damian’s shot as a ‘very worthy winner against extremely strong competition’.

Full Story: http://www.rmg.co.uk/about/press/shooting-stars/75516

Planets Smashed into Dust Near Black Holes

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Fat doughnut-shaped dust shrouds that obscure about half of supermassive black holes could be the result of high speed crashes between planets and asteroids, according to a new theory from an international team of astronomers. The scientists, led by Dr. Sergei Nayakshin of the University of Leicester, publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Supermassive black holes reside in the central parts of most galaxies. Observations indicate that about 50% of them are hidden from view by mysterious clouds of dust, the origin of which is not completely understood. The new theory is inspired by our own Solar System, where the so-called zodiacal dust is known to originate from collisions between solid bodies such as asteroids and comets. The scientists propose that the central regions of galaxies contain not only black holes and stars but also planets and asteroids.

Full Story: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2011/october/planets-smashed-into-dust-near-supermassive-black-holes-ras-pr-11-48

How the Milky Way Killed Off Its Satellites

October 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Two researchers from Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg have revealed for the first time the existence of a new signature of the birth of our galaxy’s first stars. More than 12 billion years ago, their intense light dispersed the gas of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. By computing the observable consequences of this process, Pierre Ocvirk and Dominique Aubert demonstrated their prevailing role. This result confirms that reionisation is indeed an essential process in the standard model of galaxy formation. The study took place within the LIDAU collaboration (Light In the Dark Ages of the Universe). It is published in the october issue of the letters of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The first stars of the Universe appeared about 150 million years after the Big Bang. Back then, the hydrogen and helium gas filling the universe was cold enough to have its atoms be electrically neutral. As the intense light of the first stars propagated through this gas, it broke the hydrogen atoms, returning them to the plasma state they experienced in the first moments of the Universe. This process, known as reionisation, also results in significant heating, which can have dramatic consequences: the gas becomes so hot that it escapes the weak gravity of the lowest mass galaxies, thereby depriving them of the material needed to form stars. It is now widely admitted that this photo-evaporation process explains the small number and large ages of the stars seen in the dwarf galaxies satellites of the Milky Way. It also offers a credible solution to the missing satellites problem. On the other hand, their sensitivity to UV radiation means satellite galaxies are good probes of the reionisation epoch. Moreover, they are relatively nearby, from 30000 to 900000 light-years, which allows us to study them in great details, especially with the forthcoming generation of telescopes. In particular, the study of their stellar content with respect to their position could give us precious insight into the structure of the local UV radiation field during the reionisation epoch.

Full Story: http://astro.u-strasbg.fr/~ocvirk/PR1.html

Astronomy & Geophysics Bring Women into Science

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Women are better represented in astronomy and solid-Earth geophysics research than in other areas of physics, according to a major study by the Royal Astronomical Society, with a summary published in the October edition of the journal Astronomy and Geophysics. The RAS Demographic Survey of Astronomy and Geophysics collected data on more than 2000 research employees and students in astronomy and solid-Earth geophysics in the UK to establish the composition of this community and better understand its work. Less encouragingly, the survey results show how these research areas are poor at recruiting people from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups and that addressing this deficit remains a significant challenge.

The last comparable exercise took place in 1998 and at that time covered a slightly smaller community. This time the RAS commissioned Sean McWhinnie of Oxford Research and Policy to carry out the work, gathering data using both online questionnaires and internet research of departmental websites. The survey was carried out in the autumn of 2010 and spring of 2011.

Full Story: http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/217-news2011/2017-astronomy-and-geophysics-bring-women-into-science