At just 163,000 light years away, the Large Magellanic Cloud is a glittering landmark in the southern sky, among the Milky Way’s closest neighbours and an ideal target for astronomers studying galaxy formation. The European Southern Observatory’s wide-field VISTA telescope has been monitoring the LMC and its smaller sibling, the aptly named Small Magellanic Cloud, for more than a decade, using the telescope’s near-infrared vision to peer through intervening gas and dust to map out stars populating the centre of the galaxy. VISTA – the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile – is a 4.1-metre (13.45-foot) telescope that is equivalent to a 67-megapixel camera with a 13,000-mm f/3.25 mirror. The camera weighs three tonnes and features 16 infrared detectors. The telescope has allowed astronomers to analyse about 10 million stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud and determine their ages, along with the dwarf galaxy’s three-dimensional structure and faint spiral-like features.
Astronomers have discovered a new type of exotic binary star. In the system AR Scorpii a rapidly spinning white dwarf star powers electrons up to almost the speed of light. These high energy particles release blasts of radiation that lash the companion red dwarf star, and cause the entire system to pulse dramatically every 1.97 minutes with radiation ranging from the ultraviolet to radio.
The creation of a specialised IAU Working Group, the Working Group on Star Names (WGSN), was approved by the IAU Executive Committee in May 2016 to formalise star names that have been used colloquially for centuries. WGSN has now established a new catalogue of IAU star names, with the first set of 227 approved names published on the IAU website.