School of Physics & Astronomy

Astronomy and astrophysics

Prominences surrounding young starThe group explores, through astronomical observations and theory, a range of astronomical phenomena. For example, observations of a close pair of stars provides detailed information to feed into theoretical models for the structure and evolution of stars. As another example, and as sketched in the accompanying picture, theoretical work is underway studying stellar prominences. These are cool dense clouds trapped in magnetic pockets within the 10 million degree plasma of a star's corona. Theoretical studies here at St Andrews are showing for the first time how their continual formation and ejection can help to slow down rapidly spinning younger stars.

Cataclysmic binary systemMankind has long had a desire to learn more about the heavens. But many distant astronomical objects appear only as point sources of light, even with the largest telescopes on Earth or in orbit. However, by observing how the spectrum of such sources changes with time, much can be learned about their structure. The picture shows what systems known as Cataclysmic Binaries would look like up close. Hot gas is being pulled by gravity from the large red star onto a tiny, collapsed stellar object in the centre of the glowing white disc. Using similar techniques, we are also looking at stellar magnetic activity, T-Tauri stars and active galaxies.

Artist's impression of a planet orbiting Tau Boo, courtesy of PPARC A major highlight of the group's work has been the study of planets orbiting stars other than our sun. In 2006 the group played a major role in finding the most earth-like planet yet detected. This rocky planet was detected using gravitational lensing. Later in the year, two more exoplanets were found, this time using robotic telescopes looking for a slight dip in a star's brightness as one of its planets partially obscures light from that star.

Further information on  the astronomy and astrophysics research within the school is available from the astronomy group.

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Last updated BDS 8.07