Scientists are bracing for a blitz of discoveries in the last six months of Cassini’s mission at Saturn, when the plutonium-powered robot will repeatedly ram through an unexplored gap in the planet’s famous rings, then make a destructive plunge into the atmosphere in September.
For the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, it’s been a long time between dinners. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found that the black hole ate its last big meal about 6 million years ago, when it consumed a large clump of infalling gas.
Astronomers have used ALMA to detect a huge mass of glowing stardust in a galaxy seen when the Universe was only four percent of its present age. This galaxy was observed shortly after its formation and is the most distant galaxy in which dust has been detected.
The north pole of Saturn sits at the center of its own domain. Around it swirl the clouds, driven by the fast winds of Saturn. Beyond that orbits Saturn’s retinue of moons and the countless small particles that form the ring.
Stars are bursting into life all over this image from ESA’s Herschel space observatory. It depicts the giant molecular cloud RCW106, a massive billow of gas and dust almost 12,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Norma, the Carpenter’s Square.
Astronomers are borrowing principles applied in biology and archaeology to build a family tree of the stars in the galaxy. By studying chemical signatures found in the stars, they are piecing together these evolutionary trees looking at how the stars formed and how they are connected to each other.
Three decades ago, astronomers spotted one of the brightest exploding stars in more than 400 years. The titanic supernova, called Supernova 1987A, blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months following its discovery on Feb. 23, 1987.
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has found a signal at the center of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy that could indicate the presence of the mysterious stuff known as dark matter. The gamma-ray signal is similar to one seen by Fermi at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.