In November, astronomers at the MPE presented new observations of the gas cloud G2 in the galactic centre originally discovered in 2011. These data are in remarkably good agreement with an on-going tidal disruption. As a complete surprise came the discovery that the orbit of G2 matches that of another gas cloud detected a decade ago, suggesting that G2 might actually be part of a much more extensive gas streamer.
An international research team led by scientists from the CRC 956 “Conditions and Impact of Star Formation” has used observations with SOFIA and APEX to date the core of an interstellar cloud that is forming a group of Sun-like stars. This work, to which scientists from the MPE contributed, is published in this week’s Nature journal.
As the Rosetta spacecraft moves closer to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists not only get more detailed images of the comet’s core but have also started to collect dust from its tail. COSIMA, one of Rosetta’s in-situ dust instruments, which was developed and built by a consortium led by the MPE, collected the first cometary grains on its targets at the end of August.
High-energy observations with the INTEGRAL space observatory have revealed a surprising signal of gamma-rays from the surface of material ejected by a recent supernova explosion. This result challenges the prevailing explosion model for type Ia supernovae, indicating that such energetic events might be ignited from the outside as well – rather than from the exploding dwarf star’s centre.
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.