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SOHO sees bright sungrazer comet

7 August 2016 Astronomy Now

ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, saw a bright comet plunge toward the Sun on 3-4 August 2016, at nearly 1.3 million miles per hour. The comet, first spotted by SOHO on 1 August, is part of the Kreutz family of comets, a group with related orbits that broke off of a huge comet several centuries ago.

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Most volcanic activity on Mercury stopped about 3.5 billion years ago

7 August 2016 Astronomy Now

New research from North Carolina State University finds that major volcanic activity on the innermost planet most likely ended about 3.5 billion years ago — in stark contrast to the volcanic ages found for Venus, Mars and Earth. These findings add insight into the geological evolution of Mercury and what happens when rocky planets cool and contract.

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Do black holes have a back door?

6 August 2016 Astronomy Now

The laws of physics as we know them cease to apply to black holes in their deepest regions. Large quantities of matter and energy concentrate in a gravitational singularity, where space-time curves towards infinity and all matter is destroyed. Or is it? A recent study suggests that matter might in fact survive its foray into these space objects and come out the other side.

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China’s Yutu rover dies on the Moon

5 August 2016 Stephen Clark

A Chinese rover sent to the Moon in 2013 has stopped operating, officials announced this week, ending a groundbreaking 31-month mission that made discoveries in lunar geology and catapulted China’s space programme to new heights.

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Dawn’s gravity data probes interior of dwarf planet Ceres

5 August 2016 Astronomy Now

By tracking subtle changes in the motion of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, scientists have mapped the variations in Ceres’ gravity for the first time, providing clues to the dwarf planet’s internal structure. The new data suggest that Ceres has a weak interior, and that water and other light materials partially separated from rock during a heating phase early in its history.

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Keck Observatory measures oxygen in galaxy 12 billion years ago

4 August 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have made the first accurate measurement of the abundance of oxygen in a distant galaxy. Oxygen is created inside stars and released into interstellar gas when stars die. Quantifying the amount of oxygen, the third-most abundant chemical element in the universe, is key to understanding how matter cycles in and out of galaxies.

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Freezing effects of Jupiter’s shadow on Io’s volcanic gases revealed

3 August 2016 Astronomy Now

A team of scientists has documented atmospheric changes on Io, Jupiter’s volcanically active satellite, as the giant planet casts its shadow over the moon during daily eclipses. Io’s thin atmosphere collapses as the sulfur dioxide gas emitted from volcanoes freezes when shaded by Jupiter. The atmosphere reforms when Io moves out of eclipse and the ice sublimates.

Observing

See the International Space Station glide over the UK

2 August 2016 Ade Ashford

If you chance upon a bright ‘star’ crawling across the sky in an arc from west to east, an object that doesn’t flash or possess red and green running lights (which is an aircraft), then you can be fairly certain that you’re looking at the International Space Station (ISS). Find out when and where to see it from the British Isles and Western Europe this week.

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A giant stellar void in the Milky Way

2 August 2016 Astronomy Now

A major revision is required in our understanding of the Milky Way Galaxy according to an international team led by Professor Noriyuki Matsunaga of the University of Tokyo. The Japanese, South African and Italian astronomers found a huge region around the centre of our own galaxy which is devoid of young stars.