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Clocking the rotation rate of a supermassive black hole

11 March 2016 Astronomy Now

A recent observational campaign involving more than two dozen optical telescopes and NASA’s space-based SWIFT X-ray telescope allowed a team of astronomers to measure very accurately the rotational rate of one of the most massive black holes in the universe. The black hole powers a quasar called OJ 287 which lies about 3.5 billion light-years away from Earth.

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Ten years of discovery by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

10 March 2016 Astronomy Now

On 10 March 2006, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) entered into orbit around the Red Planet. A decade later, with its six science instruments all still operating, MRO has delivered huge advances in knowledge about Mars, revealing in unprecedented detail a world that held diverse wet environments billions of years ago and remains dynamic today.

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The Saturnian sisters

10 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Similar in many ways, Saturn’s moons Tethys and Rhea (left and right, respectively) even share a discoverer: Giovanni Cassini, namesake of the NASA spacecraft that captured this view. Although somewhat different in size, Rhea (949 miles across) and Tethys (660 miles) are both composed largely of ices and are generally thought to be geologically inactive today.

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Close comet flyby threw Mars’ magnetic field into chaos

10 March 2016 Astronomy Now

The close encounter between comet Siding Spring and Mars in October 2014 flooded the planet with an invisible tide of charged particles from the comet’s coma, according to data from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. The comet’s powerful magnetic field temporarily merged with, and overwhelmed, the planet’s weak field.

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Dark matter satellites trigger massive birth of stars

9 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have used computer simulations based on theoretical models to explain massive star formation observed in dwarf galaxies. Researchers in the US and the Netherlands found that during a dark matter satellite’s closest approach to a dwarf galaxy, through gravity it compresses the gas in the dwarf, triggering significant episodes of starbursts.

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VLTI’s sharpest view ever of dusty disc around ageing star

9 March 2016 Astronomy Now

The Very Large Telescope Interferometer at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile has obtained the sharpest view ever of the dusty disc around an ageing star. For the first time such features can be compared to those around young stars — and they look surprisingly similar. It is even possible that a disc appearing at the end of a star’s life might also create a second generation of planets.

Eclipse

Highlights of 9 March total solar eclipse from Micronesia

9 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Although thick cloud in parts of Indonesia spoiled the view for some along the path of totality, tens of millions more were greeted to spectacular views of the 9 March total solar eclipse. NASA, in partnership with the Exploratorium Science Center, hosted live coverage of the event from the coral island of Woleai in the Pacific Ocean.

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Dust grains could be remnants of stellar explosions billions of years ago

9 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Microscopic particles of stardust, known as “pre-solar grains,” have been found in meteoritic material on Earth. Researchers are investigating whether these particles may have formed in classical novae explosions, ejecting stellar material in the form of gas and dust into the space between stars in the galaxy, eventually to be recycled in the creation of our solar system.

Eclipse

Get ready for the 9 March total solar eclipse

8 March 2016 Ade Ashford

The Moon will pass in front of the Sun on 9 March 2016 UT, casting its shadow over much of Southeast Asia. The path of totality, in which all of the Sun’s bright face is blocked by the Moon, is nearly 100 miles wide as it crosses Indonesia, while the partial phases can be seen from East Asia, Australia and the Pacific Ocean. Here is our detailed guide.