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Computer simulations explain Jupiter’s wild weather

30 November 2015 Astronomy Now

The numerous whirlwinds covering Jupiter are caused by upward gas flows originating deep within the giant planet. This is the conclusion reached by scientists at the University of Alberta (Canada) and the Max Planck Institute for Solar Research (MPS) in Germany after extensive computer simulations. Their models also explain why the Jovian whirlwinds’ direction of rotation is opposite to storms on Earth.

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Enceladus: water world

30 November 2015 Astronomy Now

This view of Saturn’s moon Enceladus above the planet’s ring plane was captured by the narrow-angle camera of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at a distance of approximately 630,000 miles (1 million kilometres) from the tiny water world. Enceladus is subject to forces that heat a global ocean of liquid water under its icy surface, resulting in its famous south polar water jets which are just visible below the moon’s dark, southern limb.

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Hottest white dwarf discovered in our Galaxy

29 November 2015 Astronomy Now

With a temperature of 250,000 °C — 45 times that at the surface of our Sun — astronomers believe that this dying star in the outskirts of the Milky Way may have peaked at 400,000 °C a thousand years ago. The researchers were also the first to observe an intergalactic gas cloud moving towards the Milky Way — indicating that galaxies collect fresh material from deep space, which they can use to make new stars.

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See star λ Geminorum’s lunar hide and seek on 29 November

28 November 2015 Ade Ashford

Early risers in the northeast of England and Scotland with clear skies can see naked-eye star lambda (λ) Geminorum, otherwise known as Alkibash, slip behind the southern polar regions of an 18-day-old waning gibbous Moon close to 5am GMT on Sunday, 29 November. However, for a select number of northern observers this will be a special grazing lunar occultation.

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope receives first mirror installation

27 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA has successfully installed the first of 18 flight mirrors onto the James Webb Space Telescope — the successor to Hubble — beginning a critical piece of the observatory’s construction. Targeted for launch in 2018, the telescope’s 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot (6.5-metre) mirror.

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A blue, Neptune-sized exoplanet around a red dwarf star

27 November 2015 Astronomy Now

A team of astronomers has used the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) network to detect light scattered by tiny particles through the atmosphere of a Neptune-sized transiting exoplanet. This suggests a blue sky on this world, known as GJ 3470b, which is only 100 light-years away from us.

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Hubble captures a galactic waltz

27 November 2015 Astronomy Now

This curious galaxy — known by the seemingly random jumble of letters and numbers 2MASX J16270254+4328340 — has been captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope dancing the crazed dance of a galactic merger. The galaxy has merged with another galaxy leaving a fine mist, made of millions of stars, spewing from it in long trails.

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High-speed flare observed from supermassive black hole eating star

26 November 2015 Astronomy Now

An international team of astrophysicists has for the first time witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light. The scientists tracked the Sun-sized star in the galaxy PGC 43234 some 300 million light-years away as it shifted from its customary path, slipped into the gravitational pull of the supermassive black hole and was sucked in.

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Ageing hypergiant star’s weight loss secret revealed

25 November 2015 Astronomy Now

A team of astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope has captured the most detailed images ever of the hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris. These observations show how the unexpectedly large size of the particles of dust surrounding the star enable it to lose an enormous amount of mass as it begins to die. This process, understood now for the first time, is necessary to prepare such gigantic stars to meet explosive demises as supernovae.