Astronomy and Astrophysics Group
The Astronomy and Astrophysics group at Warwick is one of the newest additions to the Department of Physics, beginning life in September 2003 with the appointment of Prof Tom Marsh. We are interested in stars and planets, how they live and how they die, and the exotic physical processes that they allow us to explore. We are an observational group and make use of a wide range of ground-based telescopes, such as ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (ING) in the Canary Islands, as well as space telescopes such as NASA's Chandra and ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope.
The objects we study are dynamic and can change within minutes, seconds and even milli-seconds. We specialise in the high-speed data acquisition and analysis techniques needed to track them. Members of the group have contributed to the development and exploitation of the ULTRACAM high-speed photometer, the Wide Angle Search for Planets project (WASP), and the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS). We are also heavily involved in the development of space missions including ESA's Exoplanet missions - PLATO (launch 2024) and CHEOPS (launch 2018).
25 June 2015: Published in the journal Nature, a team including Warwick astronomer Peter Wheatley has discovered a giant comet-like tail of hydogren gas evaporating from a Neptune-sized exoplanet. The gas is thought to be boiled off by X-rays from the parent star and then swept away by radiation pressure. The tail was revealed in Hubble Space Telescope observations in which 56% of the star is covered by the tail in ultraviolet light. The planet is losing its atmosphere at a rate of 1000 metric tonnes per second, having narrowly escaped total evaporation by the intense X-ray irradiation it suffered when its parent star was young and active. Read the Warwick press release, the full journal article in Nature, or the preprint from ArXiv. Image credit: Mark Garlick/University of Warwick.
See for example coverage by the Washington Post, and the Daily Mail.
24 June 2015: The Warwick astronomy group has been very successful in the latest round of time allocation on the Hubble Space Telescope, and will lead six projects in the forthcoming Cycle 23, including a 67-orbit GO program and a 75-orbit snapshot program: Boris Gänsicke (An HST legacy ultraviolet spectroscopic survey of the 13pc white dwarf sample and The frequency and chemical composition of rocky planetary debris around young white dwarfs: Plugging the last gaps), Mark Hollands (The dawn of rocky planet formation), Andrew Levan (The late time behaviour and environments of the first gravitational wave transients), Chris Manser (A highly dynamical debris disc in an evolved planetary system) and Elizabeth Stanway (Understanding the star formation environment of a very low redshift, low luminosity, long Gamma Ray Burst). These observations were facing an oversubscription of approximately six to one.
7 May 2015: A research team led by Warwick astronomers Roberto Raddi and Boris Gänsicke have found that water delivery via asteroids or comets is likely taking place in many other planetary systems, just as it happened on Earth. Read the Warwick press release and the paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
14 January 2015: Warwick astronomers have begun searching for small planets around bright stars using an array of twelve robotically-controlled telescopes. The telescopes, which form a wide-field observing system called the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), are designed to detect the slight dimming of a star when a planet passes across its face. The NGTS team aims to find planets the size of Neptune down to twice the size of the Earth. Dr Peter Wheatley, one of the NGTS project leaders, said "The NGTS discoveries, and follow-up observations by telescopes on the ground and in space, will be important steps in our quest to study the atmospheres and composition of small planets such as the Earth.”
Read more in press releases from ESO and Warwick.
See also regional BBC News coverage.
08 August 2014: A research team led by Warwick astronomers Joe Lyman and Andrew Levan have investigated the locations of peculiar 'calcium-rich' supernovae, which are often seen to explode at huge distances from any nearby galaxy. They postulate the merger of white dwarf-neutron star binary systems 'kicked' from their galaxy may explain these remote locations. The Warwick press release can be found here.