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A ‘tail’ of cometary twins buzzing Earth on 21-22 March

19 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Comet 252P/LINEAR will zip past Earth on Monday, 21 March at a range of about 3.3 million miles. The following day, comet P/2016 BA14 will safely fly by our planet at a distance of about 2.2 million miles, or nine times the distance to the Moon. This will be the second closest flyby of a comet in recorded history next to comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell) in 1770.

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Cosmochemists find evidence for rare element in early solar system

6 March 2016 Astronomy Now

University of Chicago scientists have discovered evidence in a meteorite that a rare element, curium, was present during the formation of the solar system. This finding ends a 35-year-old debate on the possible presence of curium in the early solar system, and plays a crucial role in reassessing models of stellar evolution and synthesis of elements in stars.

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Most distant massive galaxy cluster identified

8 January 2016 Astronomy Now

The early universe was a chaotic mess of gas and matter that only began to coalesce into distinct galaxies hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. It would take several billion more years for such galaxies to assemble into massive galaxy clusters — or so scientists had thought. Now astronomers have detected a massive, sprawling, churning galaxy cluster that formed only 3.8 billion years after the Big Bang, some 10 billion light years from Earth.

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UPDATED: Are comet fragments best explanation for mysterious dimming star?

25 November 2015 Keith Cooper

A star called KIC 8462852 has been in the news recently for unexplained and bizarre behaviour. NASA’s Kepler mission had monitored the star for four years, observing two unusual incidents, in 2011 and 2013, when the star’s light dimmed in dramatic, never-before-seen ways. Something had passed in front of the star and blocked its light, but what?

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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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Early Moon’s far-side crust shattered by barrage of small asteroids

11 September 2015 Astronomy Now

Scientists at MIT and elsewhere have identified regions on the far side of the Moon, called the lunar highlands, that may have been so heavily pelted by small asteroids during a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment 4 billion years ago that the impacts completely shattered the upper crust, leaving these regions essentially as fractured and porous as they could be.

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Helium-shrouded planets may be common in our Galaxy

12 June 2015 Astronomy Now

Planets having atmospheres rich in helium may be common in our Galaxy, according to a new theory based on data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. These planets would be around the mass of Neptune, or lighter, and would orbit close to their stars, basking in their searing heat.

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Newly dedicated observatory to search for gravitational waves

20 May 2015 Astronomy Now

Seeking to expand how we observe and understand phenomena such as supernovae and colliding black holes that generate gravitational waves, the National Science Foundation has just dedicated the Advanced Laser Gravitational Wave Observatories (Advanced LIGO) in Richland, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana.