Five months after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, knowledge about this distant system continues to unfold, yet the spacecraft is less than halfway through transmitting data about the Pluto system to Earth. New Horizons science team members presented the latest findings at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) autumn meeting in San Francisco.
Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have found the clearest indications yet that planets with masses several times that of Jupiter have recently formed in the discs of gas and dust around four young stars. Measurements of the gas around the stars also provide additional clues about the properties of those planets.
Early on the evening of Wednesday, 23 December, observers in the British Isles can see the 13-day-old waxing gibbous Moon pass in front of first-magnitude Aldebaran — the ‘Eye of the Bull’ in Taurus — the brightest star to be occulted for UK observers in 2015. Here’s our observing guide to this readily observable event in large binoculars and small telescopes.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently captured a unique view of Earth centred just off the coast of Liberia from the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit around the Moon, about 83 miles above the crater Compton, which is located just beyond the eastern limb of the Moon, on the lunar farside.
A scholarly investigation of the Cairo Calendar papyrus (1244–1163 B.C.) has led researchers at the University of Helsinki to conclude that the ancient Egyptians were aware that the variable star Algol (beta Persei) had a 2.85-day period. Given that the star’s current period is 2.8673 days, this supports the theory that mass transfer between the stars of this eclipsing binary has caused a long-term increase of its orbital period.
Asteroid 1998 WT24 safely flew past Earth on 11 December at a distance of about 2.6 million miles (11 lunar distances). During its flyby, NASA scientists used the 230-foot (70-metre) DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, California, to probe it with microwave transmissions. Using this technique, they created the highest-resolution radar pictures of the asteroid — 2.5 times better than when it was last imaged, 14 years ago.
As darkness descends on 25 December 2015, a rather special Moon can be seen rising in the east, since this is the first full Moon to occur on Christmas Day since 1977. Let us hope that the weather is favourable, for we have rather a long wait until the next — 2034. Season’s greetings from everyone at Astronomy Now!
Australian astronomers from the University of New South Wales have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system so far, orbiting a star just 14 light-years away. The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.
An international team of astronomers used European Southern Observatory telescopes to complement other earth- and space-based instruments as part of the XXL survey of galaxy clusters. The ESO team measured the precise distances to the galaxy clusters, providing the 3-D view of the cosmos required to perform accurate measurements of dark matter and dark energy.