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LIGO resumes search for gravitational waves

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

After a series of upgrades, the twin detectors of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, have turned back on and resumed their search for ripples in the fabric of space and time known as gravitational waves. Now boasting a 25 percent improvement in sensitivity, LIGO recommenced science observations at 4pm GMT on 30 November.

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Mapping the cosmic web with fast radio bursts

21 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are mysterious flashes of radio waves originating outside our Milky Way galaxy. A team of scientists, jointly led by Caltech postdoctoral scholar Vikram Ravi and Curtin University research fellow Ryan Shannon, has now observed the most luminous FRB to date, called FRB 150807.

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Curious tilt of the Sun traced to undiscovered Planet Nine

20 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Planet Nine — the undiscovered planet at the edge of the solar system that was predicted by the work of Caltech’s Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in January 2016 — appears to be responsible for the unusual tilt of the Sun. The large and distant planet may be adding a wobble to the solar system, giving the appearance that the Sun is tilted slightly.

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Keck Observatory measures oxygen in galaxy 12 billion years ago

4 August 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have made the first accurate measurement of the abundance of oxygen in a distant galaxy. Oxygen is created inside stars and released into interstellar gas when stars die. Quantifying the amount of oxygen, the third-most abundant chemical element in the universe, is key to understanding how matter cycles in and out of galaxies.

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Chorus of black holes sings in X-rays

31 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Supermassive black holes do not give off any of their own light, hence the word “black” in their name. However, many black holes pull in surrounding material and emit powerful bursts of X-rays. Collectively, these active black holes can be thought of a cosmic choir, singing in the language of X-rays. Their “song” is what astronomers call the cosmic X-ray background.

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Solving the mystery of how comets are born

29 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Detailed analysis of data collected from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft show that comets are the ancient leftovers of early solar system formation, and not younger fragments resulting from subsequent collisions between other, larger bodies.

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Study explains why galaxies stop creating stars

9 July 2016 Astronomy Now

The processes that cause galaxies to cease star formation are not well understood and constitute an outstanding problem in the study of the evolution of elliptical, spiral (such as the Milky Way) and irregular galaxies. Now, using a large sample of around 70,000 galaxies, a team of researchers may have an explanation for why some stop creating stars.

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Did gravitational wave detector find dark matter?

16 June 2016 Astronomy Now

A matter of scientific speculation since the 1930s, dark matter itself cannot yet be detected, but its gravitational effects can be. Now, eight scientists from Johns Hopkins University consider the possibility that the first black hole binary detected by LIGO could be part of this mysterious substance known to make up about 85 percent of the mass of the universe.

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Extreme trans-Neptunian objects lead the way to Planet Nine

13 June 2016 Astronomy Now

In the race towards the discovery of Planet Nine, scientists from around the world strive to calculate its orbit using the tracks left by the small bodies that move well beyond Neptune. Now, astronomers from Spain and Cambridge University have confirmed that the orbits of the six extreme trans-Neptunian objects that served as a reference to announce the existence of Planet Nine are not as stable as originally thought.