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New Horizons’ manoeuvres put it on course for post-Pluto rendezvous

8 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, speeding toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, has successfully performed a series of targeting manoeuvres that set it on course for a January 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. This ancient body is more than a billion miles beyond Pluto. The propulsive manoeuvres were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by any spacecraft.

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NASA’s Swift spots its thousandth gamma-ray burst

8 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Swift spacecraft has detected its 1,000th gamma-ray burst (GRB). A GRB is a fleeting blast of high-energy light, often lasting a minute or less, occurring somewhere in the sky every couple of days. GRBs are the most powerful explosions in the universe, typically associated with the collapse of a massive star and the birth of a black hole.

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A galaxy at the centre of the Hubble Tuning Fork

7 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Markarian 820, also known as Mrk 820, LEDA 52404 or IRAS F14379+3142, is a lenticular galaxy in the constellation Boötes, about 300 million light-years from Earth. Galaxies like this one are in the transition zone between ellipticals and spirals and lie right where the fork divides in American astronomer Edwin Hubble’s classification scheme of galaxies from 1926.

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GMRT discovers giant radio galaxy 9 billion light-years away

7 November 2015 Astronomy Now

A team of astronomers working at the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics have discovered an extremely rare galaxy of gigantic size using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT). Known as J021659-044920, the galaxy is located about 9 billion light-years away, emits powerful radio waves and has an enormous extent of 4 million light-years.

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Looking for artificial radio signals from star system KIC 8462852

6 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Could there be intelligent life in the star system KIC 8462852? A recent analysis of data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope has shown that this star — informally known as Tabby’s Star — displays large, irregular changes in brightness consistent with many small masses orbiting the star in “tight formation”. The SETI Institute trained its Allen Telescope Array on this star for more than two weeks in order to investigate the possibility of a deliberate cause of KIC 8462852’s unusual behaviour.

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MAVEN reveals speed of solar wind stripping Martian atmosphere

6 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today. Researchers have determined the rate at which the Martian atmosphere is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind and that the erosion increases significantly during solar storms.

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Martian valleys could have been carved by surprisingly little water

5 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Vast valley networks on Mars have suggested that water may have flowed there for millions of years. Now a study at Brown University suggests the valleys could have been carved by much less water in as little as a few hundred to 10,000 years. The findings are consistent with the idea that early Mars may have been cold and icy, with surface water flowing sporadically in response to short-term climate changes.

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ALMA observes growing pains in a cluster of protostars

5 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered an adolescent protostar that is undergoing a rapid-fire succession of growth spurts. Evidence for this fitful youth is seen in a pair of intermittent jets streaming away from the star’s poles. Known as CARMA-7, the protostar is one of dozens of similar objects in the Serpens South star cluster, which is located approximately 1,400 light-years from Earth.

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Radar images provide new details on Halloween asteroid

4 November 2015 Astronomy Now

The highest-resolution radar images of 600 metre-wide asteroid 2015 TB145‘s safe flyby of Earth have been processed. NASA scientists used giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off the asteroid as it flew past Earth on 31 October at 17:00 UTC (~5pm GMT) at about 1.3 lunar distances (302,500 miles, or 486,800 kilometres) from Earth.

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Distant world’s weather is mixed bag of hot dust and molten rain

4 November 2015 Astronomy Now

A team led by the University of Edinburgh used a telescope in Chile to study weather systems in the distant world known as PSO J318.5-22 which is estimated to be around 20 million years old. Layers of clouds, made up of hot dust and droplets of molten iron, have been detected on the planet-like object found 75 light-years from Earth, researchers say.