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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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Understanding stellar adolescence through T-Tauri stars

13 June 2016 Astronomy Now

A newborn star typically goes through four stages of adolescence. It begins life as a protostar, accreting material and developing a proto-planetary disc. Slowly, stellar winds and radiation blow away the surrounding shell of gas and dust. Next, when the surrounding envelope has cleared, is called the T-Tauri phase. Finally, accretion stops and the source’s radiation comes from the star’s photosphere.

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Universe’s first life might have been born on carbon planets

7 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Our Earth consists of silicate rocks and an iron core with a thin veneer of water and life, but the first potentially habitable worlds to form might have been very different. New research suggests that the early universe might have contained carbon planets consisting of graphite, carbides, and diamond. Astronomers might find these diamond worlds by searching a rare class of stars.

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New algorithm could construct first images of black holes

7 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Researchers from MIT and Harvard University have developed a new algorithm that could help astronomers produce the first image of a black hole. The algorithm would stitch together data collected from radio telescopes scattered around the globe in an international collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope. The project seeks, essentially, to turn the entire planet into a large radio telescope dish.

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Astronomers measure and model a blazing gamma-ray source

6 June 2016 Astronomy Now

A blazar is a galaxy whose central supermassive black hole emits a powerful jet of high velocity particles aimed almost directly at Earth. Astronomers have measured and successfully modelled the very high energy gamma ray emission from a blazar known as 1ES 1741+196 using VERITAS, the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System.

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Planet Nine: a world that shouldn’t exist

3 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Earlier this year scientists presented evidence for Planet Nine, a Neptune-mass planet in an elliptical orbit 10 times farther from our Sun than Pluto. New research examining theories how this planet could end up in such a distant orbit finds that most scenarios have low probabilities. Therefore, the presence of Planet Nine remains a bit of a mystery.

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Gamma-ray space telescope poised to pin down gravitational wave sources

19 April 2016 Astronomy Now

On 14 September 2015, gravitational waves produced by a pair of merging black holes gently rattled space-time in the vicinity of Earth. Less than half a second later, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up a brief, weak burst of high-energy light consistent with the same part of the sky. Analysis of this burst suggests that the events are connected.

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Fast radio burst “afterglow” was actually a flickering black hole

5 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Fast radio bursts (or FRBs) are brief yet powerful spurts of radio energy lasting only a few milliseconds. They were first identified in 2007 and their source has remained a mystery. New research shows that the radio emission believed to be an afterglow from FRB 150418 actually originated from a distant galaxy’s core and was unassociated with the FRB.

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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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Earth-space telescope observations of quasar 3C 273’s hot heart

30 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using an orbiting radio telescope in conjunction with four ground-based radio telescopes have achieved the highest resolution, or ability to discern fine detail, of any astronomical observation ever made. The researchers were surprised when their Earth-space system revealed a core temperature hotter than 10 trillion degrees for quasar 3C 273.