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Helium-shrouded planets may be common in our Galaxy

12 June 2015 Astronomy Now

Planets having atmospheres rich in helium may be common in our Galaxy, according to a new theory based on data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. These planets would be around the mass of Neptune, or lighter, and would orbit close to their stars, basking in their searing heat.

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Volcanic outgassing to aid in the search for life on other planets

11 June 2015 Kerry Hebden

Finding ways to confirm life on planets outside of our Solar System is often at the forefront of exoplanet research. Now a team of graduate students at the University of Washington (UW) have found a way to aid this search by proposing that future telescopes should look for explosive volcanic activity as a potential marker for life on other worlds.

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UK work-experience schoolboy discovers a new planet

10 June 2015 Astronomy Now

Tom Wagg, now aged 17, discovered a new planet orbiting a star 1000 light-years away in the constellation of Hydra. He was doing work-experience at Keele University two years ago when he spotted the body by finding a tiny dip in the light of its parent star as the planet passed in front of it.

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New model could track solar storms 24 hours before reaching Earth

10 June 2015 Astronomy Now

Our Sun is a volatile star, producing giant clouds of solar particles called coronal mass ejections. Now scientists may finally have a tool to predict the magnetic configuration of a CME from afar, enabling forecasters to give utility grid and satellite operators a day’s advance warning to protect their systems.

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ALMA’s detailed view of star formation in the distant universe

8 June 2015 Astronomy Now

The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array has produced a spectacularly detailed image of a distant galaxy known as SDP.81 that is being gravitationally lensed. The image shows a magnified view of the galaxy’s star-forming regions, the likes of which have never been seen before at this level of detail in a galaxy so remote.

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Charting the Milky Way from the inside out

7 June 2015 Astronomy Now

The Sun’s location within the Milky Way’s dust-obscured disc is a complicating factor when trying to determine the Galaxy’s four-arm spiral structure, but researchers are obtaining a clearer picture by mapping embedded star clusters using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).