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Durham University

Research & business

Five cool things about our Cosmology & Astronomy research

(17 December 2019)

Revealing the true colours of quasars

Research at Durham isn’t just confined to life here on Earth.

From learning about quasars to understanding the Cosmic Web, our cosmologists and astronomers are helping to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

We’re involved in some of the world’s biggest projects to develop new telescopes that will give us an even clearer picture of space.

Back on Earth, we’re even using space technology to help save the humble coffee plant.

Here are just five examples of the exciting work we’re doing:

1. Revealing quasars’ true colours

Red or blue? Highly energetic quasars can appear to be both with scientists believing that their colour depends on the angle of our line-of-sight. However, our astronomers have shown that red quasars are likely to be the result of a brief, but violent, phase in the evolution of galaxies when black holes eject large amounts of energy into the surrounding dust and gas. This could tell us more about how quasars and their host galaxies evolve.

2. Milky Way heading for catastrophic collision

Did you know that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is on a collision course with its neighbour the Large Magellanic Cloud? The crash could wake up our galaxy’s dormant black hole and there’s a small chance our solar system could be flung out of the Milky Way altogether. You don’t have to worry just yet, though – it will be another two billion years before this happens.

3. Expanding our view of the universe

We’re involved in two major international projects to give us a better picture of the universe. We’ve led on the fibre-optic system for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) that will help us understand how fast the universe is expanding. Our researchers are also helping develop the HARMONI instrument for the Extremely Large Telescope, which will be the world’s biggest when it begins operating in 2025.

4. Observing the Cosmic Web

Our astronomers have observed huge threads of gas connecting multiple galaxies across three million light years – the first time the Cosmic Web has been seen in such detail on large scales. Durham’s research gives scientists a way to map the Cosmic Web directly and to understand its role in regulating the formation of supermassive black holes and galaxies.

5. Saving coffee using space technology

Your latte or mocha could be under threat from a devastating fungal disease called coffee leaf rust. Our researchers have taken a technique from astronomy and are using it to spot the early signs of coffee leaf rust in infected plants to help stop the spread of the disease.

Find out more

Cosmology and Astronomy research at Durham

Discover more about our Institute for Computational Cosmology, Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy and Centre for Advanced Instrumentation.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate opportunities in Physics.

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