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Discovery measures “heartbeats” of a distant galaxy’s stars

16 November 2015 Astronomy Now

In many ways stars are like living beings. They’re born; they live; they die. And they even have a heartbeat. Near the end of their lifetime they begin to pulsate, increasing and decreasing their brightness by a large amount every few hundred days. Using a novel technique, astronomers have detected thousands of stellar “pulses” in the galaxy Messier 87 (M87). Their measurements offer a new way of determining a galaxy’s age.

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Earth-sized rocky planet found orbiting a nearby star

12 November 2015 Astronomy Now

The collection of rocky planets orbiting distant stars has just grown by one, and the latest discovery is the most intriguing yet. Known as GJ 1132b, the newfound world lies just 39 light-years away. Although hot as an oven, the 9,200 mile-wide planet is cool enough to potentially host an atmosphere. If it does, we could study that atmosphere in detail with the Hubble Space Telescope and future observatories like the Giant Magellan Telescope.

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White dwarf “Death Star” seen destroying a planet

21 October 2015 Astronomy Now

The Death Star of the movie Star Wars may be fictional, but planetary destruction is real. Astronomers announced today that they have spotted a large, rocky object disintegrating in its death spiral around a distant white dwarf star. The discovery also confirms a long-standing theory behind the source of white dwarf “pollution” by metals.

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The minimum mass of a proto-solar system disc

20 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers studying the birth of planetary systems in the young (about 2-3 million years old) star forming region IC348 in Perseus as seen by the infrared cameras onboard the Spitzer Space Telescope have found thirteen stars in this complex with detectable discs, none of which is as massive as our early solar system’s disc.

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Discovery of white dwarf companions of millisecond pulsars

4 October 2015 Astronomy Now

When a massive star ends its life in a spectacular supernova explosion, it can leave behind a rapidly spinning neutron star with a period of 1-10 milliseconds. Such objects that emit electromagnetic radiation in a lighthouse-like beam sweeping past the Earth are known as millisecond pulsars. CfA astronomers have identified white dwarf companions of two more millisecond pulsars in the spectacular globular cluster 47 Tucanae.

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Surprising chemistry seen in molecular rings around young star

24 September 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have discovered two spectacular rings of molecules encircling the young, Sun-like star IM Lup. The rings are made up of one of the most common heavy ions in space — DCO+ (deuterium, carbon, oxygen). This chemistry reveals new insights into the conditions of the planet-forming disc surrounding this star.

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Radio telescopes could spot supersonic stars hidden in the galactic centre

22 September 2015 Astronomy Now

The centre of our Milky Way galaxy is a mysterious place. Not only is it thousands of light-years away, it’s also cloaked in so much dust that most stars within are rendered invisible. Harvard researchers are proposing a new way to clear the fog and spot stars hiding there. They suggest looking for radio waves coming from supersonic stars.

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Shocks in a distant gamma-ray burst

15 September 2015 Astronomy Now

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) — flashes of high-energy light occurring about once a day, randomly, from around the sky — are the brightest events in the known universe. While a burst is underway, it is many millions of times brighter than an entire galaxy. Astronomers are anxious to decipher their nature as their tremendous brightness opens windows into the young universe.

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Gravitationally-lensed distant galaxies imaged with the Large Millimetre Telescope

31 August 2015 Astronomy Now

The Large Millimetre Telescope (LMT) is the world’s largest single-dish, steerable, millimetre-wavelength telescope designed specifically for astronomical observations. Astronomers have used the newly-operational LMT, situated on the summit of Volcán Sierra Negra in Mexico at an altitude of 4,600 metres, in a set of early science spectroscopic studies of submillimetre galaxies.