Astronomers have discovered a giant gathering of galaxies in a very remote part of the universe, thanks to NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy cluster, located 8.5 billion light-years away, is the most massive structure yet found at such great distances.
If you have a clear sky to the southeast an hour before sunrise on the morning of Friday, 6 November you will be greeted by a pairing of the old, waning crescent Moon with largest planet Jupiter. Then, on Saturday, 7 November, a slimmer crescent Moon joins planets Mars and Venus for an even closer triple conjunction. Have your binoculars and cameras ready!
The existence of a fifth giant gas planet at the time of the solar system’s formation — in addition to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that we know of today — was first proposed in 2011. Now astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in the fifth giant planet’s ejection from the solar system altogether.
While Mars doesn’t have much in the way of Earth-like weather, it does evidently share one kind of weird meteorology: acid fog. Planetary scientist Shoshanna Cole has pieced together a compelling story about how acidic vapours may have eaten at the rocks in Gusev Crater on Mars using a variety of data gathered by instruments on the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover Spirit.
Two stars shine through the centre of a ring of cascading dust in this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The star system is named DI Chamaeleontis, or DI Cha, in the far southern constellation of the Chameleon. While only two stars are apparent, it is actually a quadruple system containing two sets of binary stars.
ED glasses are fast becoming ubiquitous in astronomical equipment, particularly in banishing the remnants of chromatic aberration of the classic refractor. Steve Ringwood takes a look at a 115mm (4.5″) f/7 air-spaced triplet from Orion in the USA. Designed for both visual use and astrophotography, it sports a beefy three-inch dual-speed Crayford focuser and comes supplied its own hard carry case.
One method to discover planets beyond the solar system by far is transit photometry, which measures changes in a star’s brightness when a planet crosses in front of its star along our line of sight. NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has used this technique to become the most successful planet-hunting spacecraft to date, with more than a thousand established discoveries. Satellites carrying improved technology for all-sky surveys are now planned, missions that will tell us a great deal about alien planetary systems similar to our own.