On 19 September, Ewine van Dishoeck (Leiden Observatory, Leiden University and External Scientific Member at MPE) was awarded the Gothenburg Lise Meitner Award 2014. This is awarded annually to a scientist who made a breakthrough discovery in physics. Van Dishoeck receives the award for the identification of the molecular pathways that allow the formation of stars and planets from dilute gas and microscopic dust particles. At the award ceremony in Gothernburg, Sweden, Van Dishoeck presented the Swedish version of the educational iPad game Planet Challenge, Planetresan.
The “Planet Challenge” takes children from the age of six on a journey through our solar system. The game has been released in English, German, French, Spanish and Swedish and can be downloaded for free for the next three days (and for 0.89€ after that).
An international team of astronomers including researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics has discovered that the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy NGC 5548 has recently undergone strange, unexpected behaviour rarely seen in the heart of active galaxies. The researchers detected a clumpy gas stream flowing quickly outward and blocking 90 percent of the X-rays emitted by the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. This activity may provide new insights into the interaction of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies.
Recent observations of globular clusters with the VIRUS-W instrument at the McDonald observatory revealed a rotation signal at the centre of these huge agglomerations of stars. In addition, the astronomers found that the rotation axis agrees with the slight elongation found for some of the clusters, indicating that this flattening is caused by rotation.
From April 2014, a new group will study interstellar molecules and use them to explore the entire star and planet formation process at the MPE. Newly appointed director Paola Caselli will head the “Centre for Astrochemical Studies at MPE” or CAS@MPE, bringing together theorists, observers and laboratory scientists in one place.
Detailed observations of Ceres have revealed clear signatures of water on this asteroid. Moreover, it seems that the amount of water vapour varies along the asteroid’s orbit, with an increasing signature if Ceres passes closer to the sun.
MPE astronomers have used ESO's HARPS planet hunter in Chile, along with other telescopes around the world, to discover three planets orbiting stars in the cluster Messier 67. Although more than one thousand planets outside the Solar System are now confirmed, only a handful have been found in star clusters.
At the January AAS meeting, BOSS announced that they have measured the distance to galaxies more than six billion light years away to an accuracy of one percent. Together with information on the rate at which the Universe was expanding, these measurements allow MPE scientists to place powerful constraints on the properties of the mysterious Dark Energy.