Team makes planet hunting a group effort, finds more than 100 candidates

14 February 2017 Stephen Clark

An international team of astronomers released the largest-ever compilation of exoplanet-detecting observations made using a technique called the radial velocity method. They demonstrated how these observations can be used to hunt for planets by detecting more than 100 potential exoplanets, including one orbiting the fourth-closest star to our own Solar System, which is about 8.1 light years away from Earth.


A middleweight black hole hides at center of giant star cluster

11 February 2017 Stephen Clark

All known black holes fall into two categories: small, stellar-mass black holes weighing a few Suns, and supermassive black holes weighing millions or billions of Suns. Astronomers expect that intermediate-mass black holes weighing 100 – 10,000 Suns also exist, but so far no conclusive proof of such middleweights has been found. Astronomers have announced new evidence that an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH) weighing 2,200 Suns is hiding at the center of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae.


Mind the gap: ‘Rapid Burster’ behaviour explained

7 February 2017 Stephen Clark

Scientists observing a curious neutron star in a binary system known as the ‘Rapid Burster’ may have solved a forty-year-old mystery surrounding its puzzling X-ray bursts. They discovered that its magnetic field creates a gap around the star, largely preventing it from feeding on matter from its stellar companion.


Juno dives over Jupiter’s cloud tops with main engine still offline

2 February 2017 Stephen Clark

Updated at 3:30 p.m. EST with additional comments from Scott Bolton. NASA’s Juno spacecraft made a high-speed pass less than 3,000 miles over Jupiter’s turbulent clouds Thursday, taking dozens of pictures, measuring radiation and plasma waves, and peering deep inside the planet’s atmosphere, but officials still have not cleared the orbiter’s main engine for a planned maneuver to position the probe for improved science observations. As Juno prepared for Thursday’s encounter, managers weighed whether to cancel an engine burn originally scheduled for October to reshape the craft’s orbit. The solar-powered spacecraft made its closest approach about 2,670 miles (4,300 kilometres) over Jupiter’s cloud tops at 1257 GMT (7:57 a.m. EST) Thursday. NASA said all of Juno’s science instruments and its JunoCam color camera were operating during the flyby, and the data is being returned to Earth. Juno zipped by Jupiter at a relative velocity of about 129,000 mph (57.8 kilometres per second), approaching the planet over its north pole and departing over the south pole, according to NASA. For the first time, the Juno team solicited votes from the public to select all the pictures the JunoCam camera would take during the flyby. Participants on the mission’s web site will


NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe moonlights as asteroid sleuth

1 February 2017 Stephen Clark

On course to collect specimens from asteroid Bennu after its launch last year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will search this month for objects sharing an orbit with Earth, a bonus science opportunity to locate possible fragments of the primordial building blocks that formed our home planet. The long-range observations begin Feb. 9 and run through Feb. 20, using one of the probe’s cameras to look for asteroids embedded in swarms scientists believe lurk ahead of and behind Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Named Earth-Trojans, the objects likely group in clouds at Sun-Earth Lagrange points, where the combined pull of gravity from the bodies would allow asteroids to orbit in lock-step with Earth. The so-called L4 and L5 Lagrange points lead and follow Earth by 60 degrees in its path around the Sun. The same positions in front of and behind Jupiter harbour thousands of Trojan asteroids, and smaller Trojan swarms have been discovered near Venus, Mars, Uranus and Neptune. It turns out OSIRIS-REx is about to pass through the Sun-Earth L4 Lagrange point, and managers decided to scan the region where Earth-Trojans might be located to see what the spacecraft can find. Now located nearly 74 million miles (119

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