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Our galaxy’s black hole is spewing out planet-size ‘spitballs’

23 January 2017 Stephen Clark

Every few thousand years, an unlucky star wanders too close to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The black hole’s powerful gravity rips the star apart, sending a long streamer of gas whipping outward. That would seem to be the end of the story, but it’s not. New research shows that not only can the gas gather itself into planet-size objects, but those objects then are flung throughout the galaxy in a game of cosmic “spitball.”

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A stellar circle of life near Cygnus X-3

22 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A discovery that provides a new way to study how stars form has been captured in a new portrait from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Smithsonian’s Submillimetre Array (SMA). A cloud that is giving birth to stars has been observed to reflect X-rays from Cygnus X-3, a source of X-rays produced by a system where a massive star is slowly being eaten by its companion black hole or neutron star.

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Fast radio bursts born in cosmic cataclysms

15 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) were first discovered in 2007, and in the years since radio astronomers have detected a few dozen of these events. Researchers have found that these mysterious “cosmic whistles” can release a billion times more energy in gamma-rays than they do in radio waves, rivalling supernovae in their explosive power.

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Mysterious flaring X-ray objects discovered in nearby galaxies

26 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have found a pair of extraordinary cosmic objects that dramatically burst in X-rays, flaring up to become about a hundred times brighter in less than a minute, before returning to original X-ray levels after about an hour. This discovery may represent a new class of explosive events found in space.

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Record-breaking extragalactic gamma-ray binary found

30 September 2016 Astronomy Now

Using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other facilities, an international team has found the first gamma-ray binary in another galaxy and the most luminous one ever seen. The dual-star system, dubbed LMC P3, contains a massive star and a crushed stellar core that interact to produce a cyclic flood of gamma rays.

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Chandra X-ray Observatory finds evidence for violent stellar merger

16 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs, are some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe. Although these events are the most luminous explosions astronomers can observe, a new study using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA’s Swift satellite and other Earth-based telescopes suggests that scientists may be missing a majority of these powerful cosmic detonations.