Observing

See Comet Catalina’s close brush with the northern sky’s brightest star

29 December 2015 Ade Ashford

Discovered on 31 October 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey, C/2013 US10 is an Oort Cloud comet making its first foray into the inner solar system. Currently dashing northward through the constellation Boötes, Comet Catalina passes within ½ degree of Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern sky, on the morning of 1 January 2016.

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James Webb Space Telescope mirror installation halfway complete

28 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Inside NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s massive clean room in Greenbelt, Maryland, the ninth flight mirror was installed onto the James Webb Space Telescope’s structure with a robotic arm. After being pieced together, all 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 6.5-metre mirror. The full installation is expected to be complete early in 2016.

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Hubble sees two galaxies become one

28 December 2015 Astronomy Now

This image, taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the galaxy NGC 6052, located around 230 million light-years away in the constellation of Hercules. It is a “new” galaxy in the process of forming, the result of a merger between two separate galaxies that were gradually drawn together by gravity.

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Dawn gets the lowdown on dwarf planet Ceres

27 December 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, cruising in its lowest and final orbit at dwarf planet Ceres, has delivered the first images from its best-ever viewpoint. The new images showcase details of the cratered and fractured surface. Dawn is now approximately 240 miles (385 kilometres) above Ceres, which is where it will remain for the rest of its mission.

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Giant comets could pose danger to life on Earth

26 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Over the last two decades, the discovery of hundreds of giant comets, termed Centaurs, on unstable orbits in the outer planetary system means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids, according to a team of UK astronomers. Centaurs are typically 50 to 100 kilometres across, or larger, and a single such body contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids found to date.

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Chandra finds a remarkable galactic ribbon unfurled

25 December 2015 Astronomy Now

An extraordinary ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy like a tail has been discovered using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This ribbon, or X-ray tail, is likely due to gas stripped from the galaxy as it moves through a vast cloud of hot intergalactic gas. With a length of at least 250,000 light-years, it is likely the largest such tail ever detected.

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Twisted magnetic fields give new insights on star formation

25 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Using new images that show unprecedented detail, scientists have found that material rotating around a very young protostar probably has dragged in and twisted magnetic fields from the larger area surrounding the star. The discovery, made with the Very Large Array radio telescope, has important implications for how dusty discs — the raw material for planet formation — grow around young stars.

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Discovery of mechanism that halts solar eruptions before they leave the Sun

24 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Among the most feared events in space physics are solar eruptions — massive explosions that hurl millions of tons of plasma, gas and radiation into space. These outbursts can be deadly to astronauts and when these eruptions reach the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, the contact can create geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell ‘phone service, damage satellites and knock out power grids.