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UK astronomers contribute to the discovery of a new potential planetary system

Dust detected around one of the closest stars to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, may indicate the presence of an elaborate planetary system.

An international team, that included astronomers from UK institutes, used the ALMA Observatory in Chile to make these new observations. Their findings revealed a glow coming from cold dust in a region that is between one to four times as far from Proxima Centauri as the Earth is from the Sun. The data hints at the presence of an even cooler outer dust belt, which could indicate the presence of an elaborate planetary system.

Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our Sun. It is a faint red dwarf lying just four light-years away in the southern constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur). It is orbited by the Earth-sized temperate world Proxima b, discovered in 2016 and the closest planet to our Solar System. But there is more to this system than just a single planet. The new ALMA observations reveal emission from clouds of cold cosmic dust surrounding the star.

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Winning the Nobel Prize for Physics

With recent news surrounding LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves from a neutron star collision it’s wonderful that the Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”.

On 14 September 2015 scientists first detected gravitational waves coming from a black hole merger (where two black holes spiral around each other until they eventually merge together). This resulted in an announcement on 11 February 2016 that the first detection of gravitational waves had been observed.

The result was a milestone in physics and astronomy and confirmed Einstein’s predictions, made over a century ago, marking the beginning of the new and exciting field of gravitational-wave astronomy.


(An artist’s impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars.
Credits: NASA, R. Hurt, Caltech-JPL)

There are currently 11 institutes across the UK involved in developing the latest technologies and research in gravitational waves.

To find out more about gravitational waves in general take a look at STFC’s website, where you can find a number of info-graphics and everything you need to know about gravitational waves.

Out-of-this-world space camp launched a summer of science in Oxfordshire

AN ELECTRIC summer of science across Oxfordshire blasted off with an out-of-this-world space camp in July.

Building a model space station, launching bread rockets, creating cloud chambers and making planets out of Play Doh were just some of the astronomical activities the young people took part in.

Dozens of children joined the five days of fun in and around Oxford’s Rose Hill Community Centre, where they also used secret agent-style ultra violet torches to read ‘invisible’ ultra violet writing.

The wondrous week, run by Science Oxford, aimed to engage youngsters aged seven to 11 in science and technology.

The community-focused camp was supported by Explore Your Universe, a national project celebrating the physical sciences, developed by the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC).

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