News

Speeding binary star discovered approaching galactic escape velocity

14 April 2016 Astronomy Now

There are about two dozen so-called hypervelocity stars known to be escaping our Milky Way galaxy, but PB 3877 is the first wide binary star found to travel at such a high speed. The results of a new study challenge the commonly accepted scenario that hypervelocity stars are accelerated by the supermassive black hole at the galactic centre.

Observing

Catch a glimpse of planet Mercury at its best in the evening twilight

13 April 2016 Ade Ashford

Have you ever seen Mercury with the naked eye? If not, now is the time to check the elusive innermost planet off your list. Mercury reaches greatest easterly elongation from the Sun on Monday, 18 April, the highlight of a very favourable dusk apparition in the west-northwest for observers in Western Europe and the British Isles.

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Gazing into the furnace: VST captures the Fornax Cluster

13 April 2016 Astronomy Now

This new image from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile captures a spectacular concentration of galaxies known as the Fornax Cluster, which can be found in the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). The cluster plays host to a menagerie of galaxies of all shapes and sizes, some of which are hiding secrets.

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First-ever evidence of exoplanetary system found on 1917 photograph

13 April 2016 Astronomy Now

You can never predict what treasure might be hiding in your own basement. A researcher looking for a spectrum of a white dwarf known as van Maanen’s star found a 1917 image on an astronomical glass plate from the Carnegie Observatories’ collection that shows the first-ever evidence of a planetary system beyond our own Sun.

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Saturn’s past and present moons

12 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Saturn’s beautiful rings form a striking feature, cutting across this image of two of the planet’s most intriguing moons: Titan (diameter, 3,200 miles) and Enceladus (313 miles). The rings have been a source of mystery since their discovery in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, but there is not full agreement on how they formed.

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Mysterious alignment of black holes discovered

12 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Deep radio imaging by researchers in the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape, in South Africa, has revealed that supermassive black holes in a region of the distant universe are all spinning out radio jets in the same direction — most likely a result of primordial mass fluctuations in the early universe.

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Hot super-Earth atmospheres stripped by nearby host stars

11 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Astrophysicists at the University of Birmingham have used data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope to look at super-Earths, which are planets outside our solar system with a mass 1-10 times the mass of Earth. In particular, the researchers focused on hot super-Earths whose atmospheres have been stripped away by intense radiation from nearby host stars.

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Hubble sees distant spirals through a diffuse dwarf galaxy

11 April 2016 Astronomy Now

At first glance this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image seems to show an array of different cosmic objects, but the speckling of stars shown here actually forms a single body — a nearby dwarf galaxy known as Leo A. Its few million stars are so sparsely distributed that some distant background galaxies are visible through it.

News

Climate change creates wobbles in Earth’s spin axis

11 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Earth does not always spin on an axis running through its poles. Instead, it wobbles irregularly over time, currently drifting toward the British Isles at 17cm per year. These wobbles don’t affect our daily life, but they must be taken into account to get accurate results from GPS, satellites and observatories on the ground.