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LIGO resumes search for gravitational waves

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

After a series of upgrades, the twin detectors of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, have turned back on and resumed their search for ripples in the fabric of space and time known as gravitational waves. Now boasting a 25 percent improvement in sensitivity, LIGO recommenced science observations at 4pm GMT on 30 November.

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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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Lunar impact: how the Moon’s Mare Orientale was formed

29 October 2016 Astronomy Now

The Moon’s Orientale basin is an archetype of “multi-ring” basins found throughout the solar system. New research has enabled scientists to reconstruct Orientale’s formation using data from NASA’s GRAIL mission. It is now thought that the 580-mile-wide feature was created 3.8 billion years ago by an impacting object some 40 miles across travelling at about 9 miles per second.

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What happened after the lights came on in the universe?

15 September 2016 Astronomy Now

The National Science Foundation has approved funding to expand the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (HERA) in South Africa. Upgrading the number of antennas from 19 to 240 by the year 2018 will enable HERA to study more clearly the impact of cosmic dawn, the moment a few hundred million years after the Big Bang when the first stars and galaxies blazed awake.

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Hubble makes first atmospheric study of Earth-sized exoplanets

21 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have conducted the first search for atmospheres around temperate, Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system. They found indications that increase the chances of habitability on two exoplanets known as TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c orbiting a red dwarf star approximately 40 light-years away.

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Did gravitational wave detector find dark matter?

16 June 2016 Astronomy Now

A matter of scientific speculation since the 1930s, dark matter itself cannot yet be detected, but its gravitational effects can be. Now, eight scientists from Johns Hopkins University consider the possibility that the first black hole binary detected by LIGO could be part of this mysterious substance known to make up about 85 percent of the mass of the universe.

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New algorithm could construct first images of black holes

7 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Researchers from MIT and Harvard University have developed a new algorithm that could help astronomers produce the first image of a black hole. The algorithm would stitch together data collected from radio telescopes scattered around the globe in an international collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope. The project seeks, essentially, to turn the entire planet into a large radio telescope dish.

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A highly eccentric “hot Jupiter” exoplanet

29 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have observed the extreme temperature variations of HD 80606 b, a Jupiter-sized exoplanet with a highly eccentric, comet-like orbit that brings it scorchingly close to its parent star every 111 days. The researchers also calculated the planet’s rotation rate — the first exoplanet rotation rate ever obtained.

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Ancient dwarf galaxy preserves record of catastrophic event

22 March 2016 Astronomy Now

The lightest few chemical elements formed minutes after the Big Bang. Most heavier elements in the periodic table are created by stars, either from internal nuclear fusion or in catastrophic explosions. New observations of a dwarf galaxy discovered last year show that the heaviest elements, such as gold and lead, are likely left over from rare collisions between two neutron stars.