Nearly four billion years ago, life arose on Earth. Life appeared because our planet had a rocky surface, liquid water, a blanketing atmosphere and a protective magnetic field. A new study of the young, Sun-like star Kappa Ceti shows that a magnetic field plays a key role in making a planet conducive to life.
Galaxy clusters are enormous collections of hundreds or even thousands of galaxies and vast reservoirs of hot gas embedded in massive clouds of dark matter. To learn more about clusters, including how they grow via collisions, astronomers have used some of the world’s most powerful X-ray, optical and radio telescopes. The name for this galaxy cluster project is the “Frontier Fields”.
Surrounding the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy and stretching out to about 700 light-years, is a dense zone of activity called the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ). It contains many dense molecular clouds that would normally be expected to produce new stars, but which are instead eerily desolate. Where did the CMZ come from? No place else in the Milky Way is remotely like it.
On 14 September 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes 29 and 36 times the mass of the Sun. New research suggests that the two black holes might have resided inside a single, massive star whose death generated a gamma-ray burst detected by the Fermi Space Telescope.
Imagine living on a world where, every 69 years, the sun disappears in a near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years. That is just what happens in a newly discovered system, known only by its astronomical catalogue number TYC 2505-672-1, setting a new record for both the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest period between eclipses in a binary star system.
Catastrophic mergers of binary black holes have been shown to generate gravitational waves, but they can also produce brilliant fireworks of light. Now a team of astronomers has used the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) mounted on the 4-metre Blanco Telescope in Chile in the first detailed search for a visible counterpart of a gravitational wave event.
Every school child learns the basic structure of the Earth: a thin outer crust, a thick mantle, and a Mars-sized core. But is this structure universal? Will rocky exoplanets orbiting other stars have the same three layers? New research suggests that the answer is yes — they will have interiors very similar to Earth.
How did the universe begin? And what came before the Big Bang? Astrophysicists have asked these questions ever since discovering that our universe is expanding. New research suggests that subatomic heavy particles act as “primordial standard clocks,” offering a way of probing the beginning of space and time to determine which of the competing cosmological theories is correct.
Stars like the Sun begin their lives as cold, dense cores of dust and gas that collapse under the influence of gravity until nuclear fusion is ignited. How the collapse process occurs is poorly understood, so astronomers are actively studying these issues by observing young stars in the process of being born.