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VLBA measurement promises complete picture of the Milky Way

12 October 2017 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array have directly measured the distance to a star-forming region on the opposite side of our Milky Way Galaxy from the Sun. Their achievement nearly doubles the previous record for distance measurement within our galaxy.

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Fast radio bursts may be firing off every second

25 September 2017 Astronomy Now

When fast radio bursts, or FRBs, were first detected in 2001, astronomers had never seen anything like them before. Since then, astronomers have found a couple of dozen FRBs, but they still don’t know what causes these rapid and powerful bursts of radio emission.

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Astronomers discover ‘heavy metal’ supernova rocking out

2 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Many rock stars don’t like to play by the rules, and a cosmic one is no exception. A team of astronomers has discovered that an extraordinarily bright supernova occurred in a surprising location. This “heavy metal” supernova discovery challenges current ideas of how and where such super-charged supernovas occur.

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Do stars fall quietly into black holes?

30 May 2017 Astronomy Now

Astronomers at the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University have put a basic principle of black holes to the test, showing that matter completely vanishes when pulled in. Their results constitute another successful test for Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

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A middleweight black hole hides at center of giant star cluster

11 February 2017 Stephen Clark

All known black holes fall into two categories: small, stellar-mass black holes weighing a few Suns, and supermassive black holes weighing millions or billions of Suns. Astronomers expect that intermediate-mass black holes weighing 100 – 10,000 Suns also exist, but so far no conclusive proof of such middleweights has been found. Astronomers have announced new evidence that an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH) weighing 2,200 Suns is hiding at the center of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae.

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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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Forming stars in the early universe

21 November 2016 Astronomy Now

The first stars appeared about 100 million years after the Big Bang. When the universe was about 3 billion years old, star formation activity peaked at rates about ten times above current levels. Why this happened, and whether the physical processes back then were different from those today, are among the most pressing questions in astronomy.

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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.