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Speeding binary star discovered approaching galactic escape velocity

14 April 2016 Astronomy Now

There are about two dozen so-called hypervelocity stars known to be escaping our Milky Way galaxy, but PB 3877 is the first wide binary star found to travel at such a high speed. The results of a new study challenge the commonly accepted scenario that hypervelocity stars are accelerated by the supermassive black hole at the galactic centre.

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Gazing into the furnace: VST captures the Fornax Cluster

13 April 2016 Astronomy Now

This new image from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile captures a spectacular concentration of galaxies known as the Fornax Cluster, which can be found in the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). The cluster plays host to a menagerie of galaxies of all shapes and sizes, some of which are hiding secrets.

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VLTI’s sharpest view ever of dusty disc around ageing star

9 March 2016 Astronomy Now

The Very Large Telescope Interferometer at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile has obtained the sharpest view ever of the dusty disc around an ageing star. For the first time such features can be compared to those around young stars — and they look surprisingly similar. It is even possible that a disc appearing at the end of a star’s life might also create a second generation of planets.

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The realm of buried giants

2 March 2016 Astronomy Now

In this huge image of part of the southern constellation of Norma, wisps of crimson gas are illuminated by rare, massive stars that have only recently ignited and are still buried deep in thick dust clouds. The vast nebula where these giants were born, known as RCW 106, is captured here in fine detail by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

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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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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.

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A young star’s moment in the spotlight

10 February 2016 Astronomy Now

A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Dust particles in the vast clouds that surround the young T-tauri star HD 97300 diffuse its light, like a car headlight in enveloping fog, and create the reflection nebula IC 2631.

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Mystery within the deep-frozen ‘Flying Saucer’

3 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have made the first direct measurement of the temperature of large dust grains in the outer parts of a planet-forming disc around a young star. Observations of an object nicknamed the Flying Saucer reveals that the grains are much colder than expected. This surprising result suggests that models of these discs may need to be revised.

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The Milky Way’s clean and tidy galactic neighbour

27 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Many galaxies are chock-full of dust, while others have occasional dark streaks of opaque cosmic soot swirling in amongst their gas and stars. However, the irregular dwarf galaxy IC 1613 contains very little cosmic dust, allowing astronomers to explore its contents with great clarity. This is not just a matter of appearances; the galaxy’s cleanliness is vital to our understanding of the universe around us.