Observing

Get ready for the Great American Eclipse

19 August 2017 Ade Ashford

It’s been nicknamed the Great American Eclipse as totality returns to the USA for the first time in twenty-six years. On 21 August 2017, the Moon will move in front of the Sun along a strip cutting diagonally across more than a dozen different states, from Oregon on the west coast to South Carolina.

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Scientists improve brown dwarf weather forecasts

17 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds — specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realised these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

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NASA counts down final month of Cassini’s tour of Saturn

15 August 2017 Stephen Clark

NASA’s Cassini orbiter sailed through the tenuous outermost reaches of Saturn’s atmosphere without trouble Monday, performing the first of five close swings nearer to the planet than any previous spacecraft before a final dive Sept. 15 to end the probe’s nearly 20-year mission.

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TRAPPIST-1 is older than our Solar System

15 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Scientists now have a good estimate for the age of one of the most intriguing planetary systems discovered to date — TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven Earth-size worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 40 light-years away. Researchers say in a new study that the TRAPPIST-1 star is quite old: between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years. This is up to twice as old as our own Solar System, which formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

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A very close encounter

15 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Back in October 2012, the near-Earth asteroid 2012 TC4 had a close encounter with Earth. It passed our planet at a distance only a quarter of that between the Earth and the Moon. In October 2017, this small asteroid, with a size of only about 15 to 30 metres, will return for another very close fly-by, making it the perfect object to test the asteroid detection and tracking network.

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Station-bound instrument to open new chapter in the story of cosmic rays

9 August 2017 Stephen Clark

Physicists are gearing up to send a re-engineered science instrument originally designed for lofty balloon flights high in Earth’s atmosphere to the International Space Station next week to broaden their knowledge of cosmic rays, subatomic particles traveling on intergalactic routes that could hold the key to unlocking mysteries about supernovas, black holes, pulsars and dark matter.

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New Horizons’ next target might be a binary pair

8 August 2017 Stephen Clark

Ground observations of the New Horizons spacecraft’s next target last month revealed the distant object, lurking in the outer Solar System more than four billion miles from Earth, might have an unconventional elongated shape, or even consist of two icy bodies orbiting one another in an age-old cosmic dance.