Skip to main content Skip to navigation

News archive

For more recent stories, see our front page and twitter feed @warwickastro

22 July 2014: The Warwick astronomy group is hiring two postdocs, see the AAS job register entries 48530 and 48532.

24 June 2014: The Warwick astronomy group have had another extremely successful round on the Hubble Space Telescope. Boris Gänsicke, Andrew Levan, Joe Lyman, Danny Steeghs and David Wilson will be leading a total of six programs on HST in the forthcoming Cycle 22.

A water-rich asteroid11 Oct 2013: Warwick astronomer Boris Gänsicke has been involved in the discovery of the remnants of a water-rich asteroid. The debris is orbiting the the white dwarf GD61, which is the burnt-out core of what was once a normal star, somewhat more massive than the Sun. Read the Warwick press release and the paper in Science (available on arxiv).

16 Apr Comets2013: A team, led by Warwick astronomer Andrew Levan has announced the discovery of a new type of gamma-ray burst, lasting for several hours, and possibly created by the collapse of a supergiant star. See here for more information.

17 Jan Comets2013: Warwick astronomer Don Pollacco appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg discussing comets.

11 Dec Colliding planets2012: Warwick astronomer Boris Gänsicke has been awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research council, worth nearly 2.3 million Euro. This grant will fund a research group of several postdoctoral researdh assistants and postgraduate students to study a wide range of topics related to the end states of stellar and planetary evolution.

22 Nov 2012: Published in the journal Nature, Warwick astronomer Tom Marsh has helped to show that the dwarf planet Makemake has no atmosphere. Observations with the high-speed camera Ultracam showed that light from a distant star was blocked out abruptly by the dwarf planet, which lies in the outer reaches of our Solar System. If Makemake had an atmosphere like the dwarf planet Pluto then the light from the star would have faded gradually. The difference between these icy dwarf planets shows just how much we still have to learn about these mysterious objects. Read the Warwick press release, or the full journal article in Nature. Image credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (

28 June 2012: Evaporating planetWarwick astronomer Peter Wheatley has used the NASA Swift spacecraft to detect a dramatic stellar flare that seems to have driven off part of the atmosphere of the exoplanet HD189733b. The Jupiter-like planet was blasted with 3 million times the X-ray radiation received by the Earth during an X-class flare, and observations with the Hubble Space Telescope eight hours later detected a flow of hydrogen gas escaping the planet. A previous observation with HST had not shown any evaporation.
NASA movie and images
ESA movie and images
Warwick press release
Journal article

7 June 2012: The Warwick astronomy group has been very successful in the latest round of time allocation on the Hubble Space Telescope. Boris Gänsicke, Andrew Levan, Danny Steeghs and Peter Wheatley will be leading six programs on HST in the forthcoming Cycle 20 (12869, 12870, 12899, 12920, 13025, 13026), including one of the five large programs that were awarded. Their projects were facing an oversubscription of six to one.

30 May 2012: Don PollaccoWe are delighted to announce that Prof Don Pollacco will be joining our Astronomy and Astrophysics Group from September 2012. Don is a world leader in the search for planets around distant stars. He played a crucial role in developing the SuperWASP project, which has found more than a third of all known transiting planets and was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society Group Achievement Award in 2010. Don recently took part in NASA's Senior Review of its astrophysics space missions, and has been heavily involved in an advisory capacity with both the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and UK Space Agency (UKSpA) for many years. Don is also co-PI of the Next Generation Transit Survey

WD debris disc3 May 2012: Using the Hubble Space Telescope, members of the Warwick Astronomy group have measured the chemical abundances of planetary debris around white dwarfs, finding that the debris is mainly composed of Si, O, Mg, and Fe, and strongly depleted in C. This abundance pattern is very similar to that of the bulk Earth, demonstrating that the debris discs are made up of rocky material, the left-over of a planetary system that once orbited the progenitor of the white dwarf. Read the Warwick press release, or the paper on arXiv.

28 Feb 2012: The initial data release catalogues of our Kepler INT survey are now available. The KIS survey is a deep 5-filter optical survey of the Kepler field, obtained with the Isaac Newton Telescope by the IPHAS and UVEX survey teams.

Hubble Space Telescope16 June 2011: Writing in the journal Science, an international team led by Warwick astronomer Andrew Levan have shown that a luminous gamma-ray and X-ray event originates from the nucleus of a distant galaxy, from the shredding of a star by the supermassive black hole at the galaxy core. Full details can be found at the here, and the paper can be read online at Science.(Image: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick).

25 May 2011: Discovery of the most distant explosion. Members of the Warwick Astronomy group have found the most distant explosion, possibly the most distant object, ever seen. The event, a gamma-ray burst named GRB 090429B appears to lie at a redshift of 9.4, or a distance of 13.16 billion light years, 96% of the way back to the big bang. More information can be found at here and the preprint can be found at arXiv.

25 May 2011: A deeply eclipsing double-white dwarf binary. Warwick astronomers have discovered a binary star which is made up of two white dwarfs that undergo mutual eclipses every 2.78 hours. This star, dubbed CSS 41177, is only the second eclipsing system found so far among the ~50 known double-white binairies. Because accurate stellar masses and radii can only be measured in eclipsing binaries, CSS 41177 provides an excellent opportunity for testing, and improving, our understanding of the structure of white dwarfs. The current data demonstrates that both white dwarfs in CSS 41177 have a core made out of helium. Over the next ~1Gyr, the orbital period of CSS 41177 will decrease because of the emission of gravitational wave radiation, and eventually the two white dwarfs will merge. As their combined mass is below the Chandrasekhar limit, they will not detonate, but form a subdwarf star, that will finally evolve into a single, rather massive white dwarf. See the Warwick press releases for more info and read the full article on arXiv.

4 Jan 2011: A warm welcome to Elizabeth Stanway, who joins the astronomy and astrophysics group as assistant professor. Elizabeth has a strong programme of research studying high redshift galaxies.

9 December 2010: Discovery of first carbon-rich planet reported in Nature this week.
Warwick astronomer Peter Wheatley has contributed to the discovery that the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-12b is dominated by molecules containing carbon, such as methane, while oxygen-based molecules such as water are missing. The discovery shows that there is a much greater diversity in planet composition that previously expected. Rocky planets with a similar composition could have mountain ranges made of diamonds, while minerals such as sand, that are common on Earth, would be very rare. Read the Nature article, the open-access version on arXiv, or listen to a BBC local radio interview with Peter Wheatley.

September 2010: We hosted the STFC Introductory Summer school for new Ph.D students, please navigate to the summer school pages for more information.

9 June 2010: Five HST programs for the Warwick Astronomy & Astrophysics group. The results of the Cycle 18 competition for observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope were announced last night, and five Warwick-lead programs were approved, the largest number for any University in the UK. This is an extraordinary achievement, given that the orbit-oversubscription in this round of proposals was close to nine. Tom Marsh is leading a programme to establish the evolutionary history of a remarkable pair of white dwarfs that should not exist according to all current models of their formation. Boris Gänsicke is leading a programme to determine an accurate temperature and mass for a white dwarf thought to be the progeny of an intermediate-mass star that barely failed to undergo a core-collapse supernova, he is also leading a programme to investigate the frequency of remnants of planetery systems around white dwarfs. Andrew Levan is leading a programme to unveil the birthplace and origin of one of the most extreme, and highly magnetic objects known in the Universe, as well as a programme that will use the power of gamma-ray bursts as lighthouses to study distant galaxies in unprecedented detail.

1 May 2010: Faculty position in the Astronomy & Astrophysics group. As part of the Midlands Physics Alliance, which supports collaborative research and graduate teaching across the neighbouring universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick, we are expanding the Astronomy & Astrophysics group. We will appoint a faculty member at the Assistant Professor or, exceptionally, Associate Professor level (more details).

17 November 2009: Ticking Stellar Time Bomb Identified. Using adaptive optics technology, astronomers studied the first helium nova explosion on the surface of a white dwarf some 25,000 light-years away. The exquisite spatial resolution reveals an expanding shell which permits the determination of the distance to the object, while spectroscopy shows that there is no sign whatsoever for hydrogen, the most common element in the universe. See the ESO and Warwick press releases for more info, images and movies, and some coverage on the BBC.

13 November 2009: Warwick astronomers discover two white dwarfs with oxygen-rich atmospheres. These unusual abundances imply that the two stellar remnants most likely descend from relatively massive progenitors that just failed to collapse into neutron stars. Read the Warwick press release and the article in Science (or the open-access copy on arXiv).

29 October 2009: The most distant object in the Universe: The discovery of a gamma-ray burst from an era when the Universe was only 600 million years old has been reported in Nature today. This discovery dramatically increases the record for the most distant object from a redshift of z=6.96 to z=8.2. For more information see the Nature video.

27 August 2009: Reported in Nature this week; the WASP project discovers a planet that shouldn't exist! The planet is ten times heavier than Jupiter, but orbits its star in less than one Earth day. Strong tides should have caused the planet to spiral into its parent star. For more information please see the Warwick press release and Nature's editor's summary.

10 March 2009: Warwick undergraduate finds evidence for a lost population of planets. In a paper accepted for publication in the journal MNRAS, Tim Davis reports results from his final-year undergraduate research project suggesting that a large population of planets orbiting close to their parent stars have been evaporated to destruction by intense stellar X-ray emission. The work was supervised by Peter Wheatley of the Astronomy and Astrophysics group, and is the article is available as a preprint or directly from the journal.

19 September 2008: Warwick astronomers lift the mystery of a unique optical transient. An unusual optical transient was identified during the the Hubble Space Telescope Cluster Supernova Survey brightened by a factor 120, and faded again into oblivion, over the course of ~200 days, but its nature remained completely unknown. Warwick astronomy staff have shown that the spectrum of this transient is consistent with a cool, carbon rich photosphere at a redshift of ~0.14. In addition, they analysed XMM-Newton X-ray observations of the transient, showing that it was not only bright at optical wavelengths, but also a luminous high-energy source. The extragalctic nature of this event suggests that it may be a so far unknown type of supernova. For more information read the paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters or the news item in Nature.

10 April 2008: Hubble pinpoints the brightest explosion. Researchers working at the University of Warwick, with colleagues in Leicester University, ESA and NASA, have used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to pin point what remains of what was the brightest naked-eye object ever seen from Earth. It is 7.5 billion light-years away -- halfway back to the big bang, and was once as bright as 10 million galaxies. More information and images from NASA.

24 Dec 2007: TIME Magazine ranks new WASP planets in Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2007. In October the UK-led WASP project, including Warwick participation, announced the discovery of three new planets orbiting distant stars. This result has been rated by TIME Magazine in the Top 10 of Scientific Discoveries in 2007. For more information read the TIME article on WASP and the full list of Top 10 Scientific Discoveries. Also see the original STFC press release.

19 Dec 2007: Thousands sign Downing Street petition against planned cuts to funding of Astronomy and Particle Physics. In a matter of hours, thousands of shocked scientists and supporters today petitioned the Prime Minster to reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to Particle Physics and Astronomy. For more information see the petition webpage.

10 Dec 2007: Warwick astronomers contribute to largest digital survey of the Milky Way. The IPHAS consortium, led from the UK, with partners in Europe, USA, Australia, has released today the first comprehensive optical digital survey of our own Milky Way. Conducted by looking at light emitted by hydrogen gas, using the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma, the survey contains stunning images of nebulae and stars. For more information see the STFC press release and the IPHAS webpage.

Jeremy Wright MP (left) visits the Astronomy Group24 Aug 2007: Warwick astronomer selected by the Royal Society for MP-Scientist Pairing Scheme. STFC advanced fellow and assistant professor Danny Steeghs will be paired with Jeremy Wright, MP for Kenilworth and Rugby, as part of a Royal Society scheme aiming to "build bridges between some of the best research workers in the country and members of the UK parliament". Danny will spend a week in Westminster, followed by reciprocal visits to the University and constituency office. Full details of the scheme are available from the Royal Society.

26 Apr 2007: Warwick astronomers work with undergraduate student to measure the gravitational fields of extra-solar planets. In a paper accepted for publication in the journal MNRAS, John Taylor and Peter Wheatley worked with Giles Sans, a Warwick MPhys project student, to develop a new method for determining the surface gravities of transiting planets. They found that giant planets orbiting close to their stars have weaker surface gravity than Jupiter. The method is much more precise than previous methods and also does not depend on assumptions about the nature of the parent star. A pre-print of the paper can be viewed on astro-ph.

22 Dec 2006: Published in Science: Warwick astronomers discover a disc of metal-rich gas orbiting a white dwarf star. The disc probably orginates from a disrupted asteroid in a planetary system. Further details...

8 Dec 2006: Published in Science: Warwick astronomers use ULTRACAM observations to confirm for the first time the existence of brown dwarf donor stars in cataclysmic variables. Further details...

8 Dec 2006: We are pleased to announce that Danny Steeghs will be joining our group as assistant professor from April 2007.

17 Oct 2006: We are pleased to announce that Andrew Levan will be joining our group as assistant professor from Jan 2007.

12 Oct 2006: Congratulations to Amornrat Aungwerojwit on winning the Anglo-Thai Society Annual Award for Educational Excellence in Science & Medicine.

26 Sept 2006: SuperWASP discovers two transiting extra-solar planets