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First signs of weird quantum property of empty space?

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

By studying the polarisation of light emitted from an extraordinarily dense and strongly magnetised neutron star using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers may have found the first observational indications of a strange quantum effect known as vacuum birefringence, first predicted in the 1930s.

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Starvation diet for supermassive black hole dims brilliant galaxy

10 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers may have solved the mystery of the peculiar volatile behaviour of a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy known as Markarian 1018 some 590 million light-years away. Combined data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other observatories suggest that the black hole is no longer being fed enough fuel to make its surroundings shine brightly.

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SPHERE reveals protoplanetary discs being shaped by newborn planets

9 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Three teams of astronomers have made use of SPHERE, an advanced exoplanet-hunting instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, in order to shed light on the enigmatic evolution of fledgling planetary systems. The explosion in the number of known exoplanets in recent years has made the study of them one of the most dynamic fields in modern astronomy.

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Study confirms that novae are main source of lithium in the universe

3 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Lithium, like the majority of chemical elements, can trace its origins back to astrophysical phenomena, but its point of genesis was unclear. Recently, a group of researchers detected enormous quantities of beryllium-7 — an unstable element which decays into lithium — inside nova V5668 Sgr, which suggests that novae are the main source of lithium in the galaxy.

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‘Pillars of destruction’ in the Carina Nebula

2 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Spectacular new observations of vast pillar-like structures within the Carina Nebula have been made using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The different pillars analysed by an international team seem to be pillars of destruction — in contrast to the name of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, which are of similar nature.

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Unexpected gaseous haloes detected around distant quasars

26 October 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers has discovered glowing gas clouds surrounding distant quasars. The new survey of these active galaxies indicates that haloes around quasars are far more common than expected. The properties of the haloes in this surprising find are also in striking disagreement with currently accepted theories of galaxy formation in the early universe.

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Galactic fireworks illuminate giant hydrogen blob

21 September 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of researchers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) and other telescopes has discovered the power source illuminating a so-called Lyman-alpha Blob — a rare, brightly glowing, and enormous concentration of gas in the distant universe.

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Starving black hole returns brilliant galaxy to the shadows

19 September 2016 Astronomy Now

The mystery of a rare change in the behaviour of a supermassive black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy has been solved by an international team of astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope along with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. It seems that the black hole has fallen on hard times and is no longer being fed enough fuel to make its surroundings shine.