Research news

The GTC observes binary asteroid Didymos, main target of the ESA Hera space mission

The World’s largest optical and infrared telescope is part of this space project by observing binary asteroid Didymos in order to assess the impact that NASA DART mission will have on its orbit. Both Hera and DART were conceived as part of the international “Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment” experiment (AIDA), aimed to study deflection techniques to avoid future asteroids that could impact on the Earth. Julia de León, IAC Severo Ochoa advance postdoctoral researcher, and Marcel Popescu, IAC postdoctoral researcher, are carrying the observational campaign, which began 8 March with the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC). >> Read more


New data about spiral waves detected in sunspots

An international study, led by the IAC Severo Ochoa postdoctoral fellow Tobías Felipe, reveals unknown details about the nature of a singular type of oscillatory phenomenon in spiral form detected in sunspots. the oscillations start out from the darkest part of the sunspot, called the umbra, and spread into the outer regions, the penumbra. The research, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics and picked out as a “highlight”, was carried out using observations with the GREGOR telescope at the Teide Observatory. >> Read more


Our solar neighbourhood is full of planets

A team from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias has participated in the discovery of a frozen super-Earth around a Brown dwarf, Barnard’s star, in the second nearest solar system to ourselves, 5.96 light years away. Only the triple star system Alpha Centauri is nearer. The study, published today in Nature magazine, shows the existence of a planet which should have around three times the mass of the Earth (3.2 earth masses) and which orbits the star in 233 days. Barnard’s star is relatively cool, and the super-Earth Barnard b (also GJ 699b) is in orbit close to the so-called “snow line” a distance which marks the limit beyond which water would freeze. If Barnard b did not have an atmosphere its probable temperature would be -170ºC. >> Read more


Measure the motion of 39 dwarf galaxies

Thanks to the data acquired by the ESA Gaia space mission, an international team, led by researchers from the IAC, has been able to measure the on-sky motion of 39 dwarf galaxies, determining its direction and velocity. These data gives information on the dynamics of these galaxies, their histories and their interactions with the Milky Way. The researchers found that many of them are moving in a plane known as the vast polar structure. The origin of ‘the vast polar structure’ is still not fully understood but its characteristics appear to challenge cosmological models of galaxy formation. Also the Large Magellanic Cloud is found in this planar structure, which might imply the two are connected. Dwarf galaxies, besides being interesting in their own right, are one of the few tracers of dark matter that can be used in the most external parts of the Milky Way. >> Read more


Galaxies like Russian dolls

Jairo Méndez Abreu, Severo Ochoa postdoctoral fellow, and Adriana de Lorenzo-Cáceres, researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), have discovered a peanut-shaped structure in the inner bar of a double-barred galaxy close to the Milky Way. Structures of this type, in the form of a Russian doll and previously detected only in outer, or single, bars are useful tracers of the evolution of the galaxies. This structure, in the form of a Russian doll composed of two bars is basic for understanding the internal evolution of the galaxies, and how they fuel the supermassive black holes at their centres. This work has been carried out within the international TIMER project. >> Read more


First images of asteroid Bennu obtained by the NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft

After two years travelling through space, the NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has started to obtain images of the mission target, primitive asteroid Bennu. As part of the Scientific Team of this mission, researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), Javier Licandro and Julia de León have already started to work in the calibration of this images in preparation for the ones that will be obtained in December 2018 using color filters. >> Read more


Sextans: the smallest cannibal galaxy discovered until now

The researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) Luis Cicuéndez and Giuseppina Battaglia have found a case of galactic cannibalism on the smallest known scale until now. This is the Sextans galaxy, which has a mass some 100,000 times less than that of the Milky Way but has swallowed an even smaller companion. When they analyzed the dwarf galaxy they observed that the spatial distribution of the blue, metal-poor stars was round and regular, while that of the red, metal-rich stars was much more elliptical and irregular, with an overdensity of stars on the north-eastern side. >> Read more


Astronomers find a galaxy unchanged since the early universe

There is a calculation suggesting that only one in a thousand massive galaxies is a relic of the early universe, conserving intact the properties it had when it was formed thousands of millions of years ago. For that reason when the researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of La Laguna (ULL), Michael Beasley  (advanced SO fellow) and Ignacio Trujillo located this rarity they wrote a proposal for time on the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the globular clusters surrounding it, and so confirm what had been suggested by the observations they had made with ground-based telescopes. The results of the research published today in Nature showed that the galaxy NGC 1277 has only red globular cluster which formed along with it, while practically lacks blue clusters that are a consequence of having absorbed other smaller galaxies, which confirms that this galaxy has remained unchanged since its formation. >> Read more


The first images associated with a source of gravitational waves

The IAC has participated in the detection of the visible, infrared and X-rays counterparts of the source of gravitational waves GW170817. This source, which corresponds to a collision of two neutron stars, is the first for which an electromagnetic counterpart has been detected. The results have been published today in the journals Nature and Astrophysical Journal and involve more than a thousand scientists, including the IAC Severo Ochoa postdoctoral researcher Josefa Becerra, the Scientific Director of the Severo Ochoa Program at IAC, Rafael Rebolo, and the IAC researcher Miquel Serra-Ricart. >> Read more

First scientific results with CARMENES

CARMENES, a visible and infrared spectrograph developed by a consortium of eleven German and Spanish institutions and involving up to eight researchers and engineers from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC), was designed to search for terrestrial-type planets in the habitability zone, the region around a star where the conditions allow the existence of liquid water. This instrument, installed in the 3.5-meters telescope of the Observatory of Calar Alto (Almeria), has studied a sample of 300 stars searching for planets similar to the Earth. The study, published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics, analyzes seven known planetary systems and test the excellent performance of this spectrograph. >> Read more

Discovery of a super-Earth near to the habitable zone of a cool star

An international team led by researchers from the IAC, including the IAC Director Rafael Rebolo, using the radial velocity method, have discovered a possibly rocky planet at the edge of the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Only a few dozen planets of this kind are known and its detection was made possible with the HARPS-N spectrograph on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) at the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory, La Palma. >> Read more

The IAC researcher Javier Trujillo Bueno has managed to win an ERC Advanced Grant

The scientific research carried out at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) have again achieved the recognition of the European Research Council (ERC).This organization has just made an ERC Advanced Grant, in a programme to fund the development of excellent and highly innovative projects, to the CSIC Research Professor at the IAC Javier Trujillo Bueno, who is also part of the Coordination Committee of the SO programme at the IAC. The project, titled "Polarized Radiation Diagnostics for Exploring the Magnetism of the Outer Solar Atmosphere" (POLMAG), is aimed at the development of new methods for investigating the magnetism in the outer layers of the solar atmosphere (chromosphere and corona) based on the measurement and the theoretical interpretation of the polarization of the radiation in the solar spectrum. >> Read more

New data about two distant asteroids give a clue to the possible “Planet Nine”

A team of researchers, led by the Severo Ochoa advance postdoctoral fellow of the IAC Julia de León and in collaboration with the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, has taken a step further to physically characterize two distant asteroids (trans Neptunian objects) and to confirm or refute the "Planet Nine" hypothesis. The study, which includes the first spectroscopic observations of 2004 VN112 and 2013 RF98 with the GTC, proposes that this pair of objects was a binary asteroid that shut down after approaching a planet beyond Pluto. The study has recently been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. >> Read more

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