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All’s quiet on the Sun

3 December 2016 Astronomy Now

This week the Sun was hitting its lowest level of solar activity since 2011 as it gradually marches toward solar minimum. See a near spotless Sun revolve in this video from the Solar Dynamic Observatory.

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LIGO resumes search for gravitational waves

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

After a series of upgrades, the twin detectors of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, have turned back on and resumed their search for ripples in the fabric of space and time known as gravitational waves. Now boasting a 25 percent improvement in sensitivity, LIGO recommenced science observations at 4pm GMT on 30 November.

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A new perspective on how Pluto’s “icy heart” came to be

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

Pluto’s “icy heart” is a bright, two-lobed feature on its surface that was discovered by NASA’s New Horizons team in 2015. The heart’s western lobe, informally named Sputnik Planitia, is a deep basin generally thought to have been created by a smaller body striking Pluto at extremely high speed, but a new study suggests a different origin.

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First signs of weird quantum property of empty space?

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

By studying the polarisation of light emitted from an extraordinarily dense and strongly magnetised neutron star using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers may have found the first observational indications of a strange quantum effect known as vacuum birefringence, first predicted in the 1930s.

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CaSSIS sends first images from Mars orbit

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

The Mars Camera, CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System), on ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter captured its first high-resolution images of the Red Planet last week. Developed by a team at the University of Bern in Switzerland, CaSSIS is providing spectacular views, including the Hebes Chasma region at a resolution of 2.8 metres per pixel.

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Did a low-mass supernova trigger formation of solar system?

29 November 2016 Astronomy Now

About 4.6 billion years ago, a cloud of gas and dust that eventually formed our solar system was disturbed. The ensuing gravitational collapse formed the proto-Sun with a surrounding disc where the planets were born. Now, forensic evidence from meteorites provides conclusive evidence that a low-mass supernova was the trigger.

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Mystery of ultra-diffuse faint galaxies solved

29 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Over the last year, researchers have observed some very faint, diffuse galaxies. These so-called ultra-diffuse galaxies (UDGs) are as faint as dwarf galaxies but are distributed over an area just as large as the Milky Way. Now, a solution to the mystery of how such galaxies form has been found.

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Potentially habitable super-Earth K2-3d observed transiting parent star

28 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A group of researchers has observed the first ground-based transit observation of K2-3d — a potentially Earth-like extrasolar planet supposedly within the habitable zone around a bright M-dwarf host star 147 light-years away — using the multi-band imager MuSCAT on the Okayama Astrophysical Observatory’s 1.88-metre telescope.

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Grid computing to tackle the mystery of the dark universe

26 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists from the University of Manchester working on the revolutionary Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project have harnessed the power of distributed computing from the UK’s GridPP collaboration to tackle one of the universe’s biggest mysteries — the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

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