The expansion rate of the Universe today is described by the so-called Hubble constant and different techniques have come to inconsistent results about how fast our Universe actually does expand. An international team led by the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) has now used two gravitational lenses as new tools to calibrate the distances to hundreds of observed supernovae and thus measure a fairly high value for the Hubble constant. While the uncertainty is still relatively large, this is higher than that inferred from the cosmic microwave background. more

The SRG (Spektr-RG) Orbital Observatory has recently started one of its many tests by looking at a small patch of the extragalactic sky with one of the seven eROSITA telescope modules. The results are consistent with preflight expectations. The work on commissioning other modules is still underway and will be completed in the coming weeks before starting a 4-year long all-sky survey later this year. more

Hot plasma fills the entire volume of galaxy clusters and makes these objects powerful sources of X-ray radiation. While the density and temperature of this gas can be readily measured, its material properties, such as its viscosity and thermal conductivity are largely unknown. The problem stems from the poorly understood role of weak magnetic fields permeating the gas. While such fields are too weak to directly affect large-scale motions of the gas, they might change the microscopic properties of the plasma. Recent long observations of the Coma cluster in the X-ray band have shown that this is indeed the case – the behavior of the gas is markedly different from expectations for un-magnetized plasma. more

The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste has awarded its 2019 Dirac Medal and Prize to three physicists whose research has made a profound impact on modern cosmology. Rashid Sunyaev (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics) shares the prize with Viatcheslav Mukhanov (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) and Alexei Starobinsky (Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics) for “their outstanding contributions to the physics of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) with experimentally tested implications that have helped to transform cosmology into a precision scientific discipline by combining microscopic physics with the large scale structure of the Universe.” All three winners have made important contributions to the understanding of the early Universe in the context of inflationary cosmology. more

New cosmological simulations targeting the evolution of the first quasars and their host galaxies now follow the effects of radiation from young stars on the interstellar medium. As the international team shows, stellar radiation can alter both the properties of the quasar host galaxy and its satellites, making them more diffuse and less tightly-bound. Satellites are more easily disrupted by the strong tidal forces of the massive central galaxy, which therefore contains a smaller satellite population. more

During this year’s MPA summer get-together, Aoife Boyle received the 2018 Kippenhahn Prize for the best student paper at MPA for her publication on “Understanding the neutrino mass constraints achievable by combining CMB lensing and spectroscopic galaxy surveys”. The selection committee was very impressed by her single author paper, which in today’s publishing culture is quite rare. more

On July 13, 2019, at 14:31 CEST the Russian-German Spectrum-RG satellite mission has been launched from the Baikonur Kosmodrom by a Proton rocket. The space observatory carries two multi-mirror grazing incidence X-ray telescopes: eROSITA, built by the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (Garching, Germany), and ART-XC, built by the Space Research Institute (Moscow, Russia). After a spectacular launch the spacecraft attained 3-axis stabilization and started its 100-day long journey to the Lagrange point L2 of the Sun-Earth system. more

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