News

Did Pluto’s moon Charon possess an ancient subsurface ocean?

20 February 2016 Astronomy Now

This image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft focuses on a section of the informally named Serenity Chasma, part of a vast equatorial belt of chasms on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Scientists believe that Charon’s subsurface water-ice layer may have been partially liquid in its early history, and has since refrozen, expanded and pushed the surface outward, producing the massive chasms we see today.

Observing

Return of the King — get ready for Jupiter at its best

19 February 2016 Ade Ashford

In the early evening of Tuesday, 23 February, the rising waning gibbous Moon — one day after full Moon — lies just 3½ degrees from magnitude -2.5 planet Jupiter low in the eastern sky. Jupiter is closest to Earth on Tuesday, 8 March, so now is the time to get acquainted with the solar system’s largest planet.

News

Hubble directly measures rotation of cloudy ‘super-Jupiter’ exoplanet

19 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have measured the rotation rate of an extreme exoplanet by observing the varied brightness in its atmosphere. The planet, called 2M1207b, is about four times more massive than Jupiter and is dubbed a “super-Jupiter.” This is the first measurement of the rotation of a massive exoplanet using direct imaging.

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Longest-lasting stellar eclipse discovered

18 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Imagine living on a world where, every 69 years, the sun disappears in a near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years. That is just what happens in a newly discovered system, known only by its astronomical catalogue number TYC 2505-672-1, setting a new record for both the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest period between eclipses in a binary star system.

News

Mystery of disappearing asteroids solved

18 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Ever since it was realised that asteroid and comet impacts are a real and present danger to the survival of life on Earth, it was thought that most of those objects end their existence by plunging into the Sun. But a new study finds instead that most of those objects are destroyed in a drawn out, long hot fizzle, much farther from the Sun than previously thought.

News

Black hole observatory launched from Japan

17 February 2016 Stephen Clark

Japan launched a pioneering observatory with X-ray vision Wednesday to peer into the mysterious, light-starved neighbourhoods around black holes and study the genesis of galaxies and other cosmic mega-structures billions of light-years from Earth.

News

Glow from the Big Bang allows discovery of distant black hole jet

17 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to discover a jet from a very distant supermassive black hole being illuminated by the oldest light in the universe. This discovery shows that black holes with powerful jets may be more common than previously thought in the first few billion years after the Big Bang.

News

First detection of a super-Earth exoplanet’s atmosphere

17 February 2016 Astronomy Now

For the first time astronomers were able to analyse the atmosphere of a super-Earth exoplanet. Using data gathered with the Hubble Space Telescope and new analysis techniques, the exoplanet 55 Cancri e some 40 light-years away is revealed to have an atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen and helium without any indications of water vapour.

Picture This

Hubble sees a diamond in the dust

15 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Surrounded by an envelope of dust, the subject of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a young pre-main-sequence star known as HBC 1. The star is in an immature and adolescent phase of life, hence its classification — most of a Sun-like star’s life is spent in a stage comparable to human adulthood dubbed the main sequence.

Picture This

Visualising the 9 March total solar eclipse

14 February 2016 Astronomy Now

The total solar eclipse of Wednesday, 9 March 2016 is of relatively long duration — 4m 9s at greatest eclipse — which occurs at 1:57 UT. Totality is visible from Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and the North Pacific Ocean, while the partial phases can be seen from East Asia, Australia and the Pacific Ocean. See the event unfold in these new NASA timelapse visualisations.