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Detection of methanol shows comets are forming in distant solar system

16 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have found the organic molecule methyl alcohol, or methanol, in the protoplanetary disc of TW Hydrae, 175 light-years from Earth — the first such detection of this chemical compound in a young planet-forming disc. Since methanol forms on the icy coatings of dust grains, this discovery provides a window into the region where comets are likely forming.

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Supermassive black hole fed by cold intergalactic downpour

9 June 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) has witnessed a cosmic weather event that has never been seen before — a cluster of towering intergalactic gas clouds raining in on the supermassive black hole at the centre of a huge galaxy one billion light-years from Earth.

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First evidence of comets orbiting a Sun-like star

19 May 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge have used data from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) to find evidence of ice and comets orbiting nearby Sun-like star HD 181327, which could give a glimpse into how our own solar system developed.

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ALMA measures mass of black hole with extreme precision

6 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), a team of astronomers has delved remarkably deep into the heart of a nearby elliptical galaxy to study the motion of a disc of gas encircling the supermassive black hole at its centre. These observations provide one of the most accurate mass measurements to date for a black hole outside of our galaxy.

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Dwarf dark galaxy hidden in ALMA gravitational lens image

14 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Subtle distortions hidden in a stunning Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) image of the gravitational lens SDP.81 are telltale signs that a dwarf dark galaxy is lurking in the halo of a much larger galaxy nearly 4 billion light-years away. This discovery could help astronomers address important questions on the nature of dark matter.

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A planet is forming in an Earth-like orbit around a young star

2 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Discs of dust and gas that surround young stars are the formation sites of planets. New images from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) reveal never-before-seen details in the planet-forming disc around a nearby Sun-like star, including a tantalising gap at the same distance from the star as the Earth is from the Sun.

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VLA reveals earliest stages of planet formation

18 March 2016 Astronomy Now

New images of a young star called HL Tauri made with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) reveal what scientists think may be the very earliest stages in the formation of planets. The scientists used the VLA to see unprecedented detail of the inner portion of a dusty disc surrounding the star, some 450 light-years from Earth.

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ATLASGAL survey of southern Milky Way completed

24 February 2016 Astronomy Now

A spectacular new image of the Milky Way has been released to mark the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). The APEX telescope in Chile has mapped the full area of the galactic plane visible from the Southern Hemisphere for the first time at submillimetre wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves.

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ALMA sees early stages of planet formation around a binary star

13 February 2016 Astronomy Now

To better understand how planets in binary star systems form and evolve, astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) took a new, detailed look at the planet-forming disc around HD 142527, a binary star about 450 light-years from Earth in a cluster of young stars known as the Scorpius-Centaurus Association.

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Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) starts its second decade

11 February 2016 Astronomy Now

The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) is a 12-metre radio telescope for observations at submillimetre wavelengths, operating 5,100 metres above sea level in the Atacama Desert. On 25-26 January, the project’s 10th anniversary was celebrated at the APEX base station in Sequitor, San Pedro de Atacama. A number of special guests were present at the occasion.