Heavens

GRB 080319B was so intense that, despite happening halfway across the Universe, it could have been seen briefly with the unaided eye (ESO 08/08). In a paper to appear in the 11 September issue of Nature, Judith Racusin of Penn State University, Pennsylvania (USA), and a team of 92 co-authors report observations across the electromagnetic spectrum that began 30 minutes before the explosion and followed it for months afterwards.

Events on a cosmic scale are often barely discernable on Earth. This explains why astronomers are currently not able to prove directly that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate, nor can they search for planets that are roughly the same size as Earth and revolve around a sun-like star. An international team of researchers working with staff at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics has now tested a measurement method that will allow such measurements to be carried out.

Astronomers have been able to study planet-forming discs around young Sun-like stars in unsurpassed detail, clearly revealing the motion and distribution of the gas in the inner parts of the disc. This result, which possibly implies the presence of giant planets, was made possible by the combination of a very clever method enabled by ESO's Very Large Telescope.

A new report published on Friday, 5 September, provides the most comprehensive evidence available to confirm that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)'s switch-on, due on Wednesday next week, poses no threat to mankind. Nature's own cosmic rays regularly produce more powerful particle collisions than those planned within the LHC, which will enable nature's laws to be studied in controlled experiments.

Astronomical instruments needed to answer crucial questions, such as the search for Earth-like planets or the way the Universe expands, have come a step closer with the first demonstration at the telescope of a new calibration system for precise spectrographs. The method uses a Nobel Prize-winning technology called a 'laser frequency comb', and is published in this week's issue of Science.

An international team of scientists that includes University of British Columbia astronomer Brett Gladman has found an unusual object whose backward and tilted orbit around the Sun may clarify the origins of certain comets.

In the first discovery of its kind, researchers from Canada, France and the United States have discovered an object that orbits around the Sun backwards, and tilted at an angle of 104 degrees – almost perpendicular to the orbits of the planets.

Astronomers have taken the closest look ever at the giant black hole in the center of the Milky Way. By combining telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, and California, they detected structure at a tiny angular scale of 37 micro-arcseconds - the equivalent of a baseball seen on the surface of the moon, 240,000 miles distant. These observations are among the highest resolution ever done in astronomy.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — An international team, led by astronomers at the MIT Haystack Observatory, has obtained the closest views ever of what is believed to be a super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

ESO's Wide Field Imager has captured the intricate swirls of the spiral galaxy Messier 83, a smaller look-alike of our own Milky Way. Shining with the light of billions of stars and the ruby red glow of hydrogen gas, it is a beautiful example of a barred spiral galaxy, whose shape has led to it being nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel.

Venus is a planet similar in size to the Earth. Nevertheless, it is quite different in other aspects. On the one hand, it spins very slowly on its axis, taking 224 terrestrial days and, moreover, it does so in the opposite direction to that of our planet, i.e. from East to West.