Keele Astrophysics Group

Welcome to the Keele Astrophysics Group which is part of the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences and the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

The Keele Astrophysics group currently consists of 11 academic staff members, with research interests including star formation and stellar clusters, late stellar evolution, massive stars and their impact on the early universe, the interstellar medium, binary stars, interacting binary stars, and the detection of extra-solar planets.

Keele astronomers find 'cousin' planets around twin stars

Astronomers at Keele University have found two new Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets, each orbiting one star of a binary-star system.

Most known extra-solar planets orbit stars that are alone, like our Sun. Yet many stars are part of binary systems, twin stars formed from the same gas cloud. Now, for the first time, two stars of a binary system are both found to host a "hot Jupiter" exoplanet.

The discoveries, around the stars WASP-94A and WASP-94B, were made by a team of British, Swiss and Belgian astronomers.

The Keele-led WASP-South survey found tiny dips in the light of WASP-94A, suggesting that a Jupiter-like planet was transiting the star; Swiss astronomers then showed the existence of planets around both WASP-94A and then its twin WASP-94B. Marion Neveu-VanMalle (Geneva Observatory), who wrote the announcement paper, explains: "We observed the other star by accident, and then found a planet around that one also!".

Professor Coel Hellier, of Keele University, remarks: "WASP-94 could turn into one of the most important discoveries from WASP-South. The two stars are relatively bright, making it easy to study their planets, so WASP-94 could be used to discover the compositions of the atmospheres of exoplanets".

Further details can be found in the research paper annoucing the discovery: WASP-94 A and B planets: hot-Jupiter cousins in a twin-star system

Keele astronomers help find dust in supernova ejecta

Using the Atacama Large subMillimeter Array on the Chilean Altiplano, an international team of astronomers including Masa Lakicevic and Jacco van Loon from Keele have finally confirmed that a "nearby" supernova which had been seen to explode in 1987 has produced copious amounts of dust. This may have important implications for anything in the Universe that is made up of solid stuff, including Earth and life on it.

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Keele astronomers have pushed the total number of extra-solar planets known through the efforts of worldwide astronomers to over 1,000, by announcing 12 new planets from the WASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) survey.

Keele operates the WASP-South survey cameras, scanning the night skies and watching for small dips in the light of a star when a planet passes in front of ("transits") the star. The new announcements include WASP-100 and WASP-101, the hundredth and hundredth-and-first planets found by the WASP team.

Among its 100 planets, WASP has found the largest known planet, the shortest-period hot Jupiter, the first planet found in a retrograde orbit, and planets spiralling into destruction on their host star.

Professor Coel Hellier, who leads the WASP-South teams, said: "The WASP planets will be a mainstay of exoplanets research for decades. Astronomers worldwide are studying our planets."

Artist's impression of an exoplanet above by courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada (

Keele Astronomers find Solid Buckyballs in Space

Oranges in a crate

Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of astronomers led by Nye Evans and including Jacco van Loon of the Keele Astrophysics Group has detected solid buckminsterfullerne (C60) in space for the first time. The buckminsterfullerne molecules are spherical, like soccer balls, and in solid form they stack like "oranges in a crate", as shown in the illustration. The "buckyballs" are found in the environment of a star called XX Ophiuchi, which is about 6500 light years from Earth.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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