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).
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.
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.
11 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 2013: 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 2013: Warwick astronomer Don Pollacco appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg discussing comets.
11 Dec 2012: 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 (skysurvey.org).
28 June 2012: Warwick 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
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: We 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
3 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.