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A death star’s ghostly glow

28 October 2016 Astronomy Now

The eerie glow of a dead star, which exploded long ago as a supernova, reveals itself in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab Nebula in the constellation of Taurus. But don’t be fooled. The ghoulish-looking object still has a pulse. Buried at its centre is the star’s telltale heart — a neutron star which beats with rhythmic precision.

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The Frontier Fields: where primordial galaxies lurk

29 September 2016 Astronomy Now

In the ongoing hunt for the universe’s earliest galaxies, NASA has wrapped up its observations for the Frontier Fields project. This ambitious venture has combined the power of all three of NASA’s orbital observatories — the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory — to delve as far back in time and space as current technology can allow.

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Hubble spots possible water plumes erupting on Jupiter’s moon Europa

26 September 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapour plumes erupting 125 miles (200 kilometres) off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness.

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Record-breaking galaxy cluster discovered

31 August 2016 Astronomy Now

A new record for the most distant galaxy cluster has been set using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. CL J1001+0220 is located about 11.1 billion light-years from Earth. The discovery of this object pushes back the formation time of galaxy clusters — the largest structures in the universe held together by gravity — by about 700 million years.

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Golden eye: James Webb Space Telescope’s mirror unveiled

28 April 2016 Astronomy Now

On 27 April 2016, engineers unveiled the giant golden mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope as part of the integration and testing of the infrared telescope. The 6.5-metre mirror is composed of 18 segments the size of a coffee table. Each is made from beryllium, weighs about 46 pounds (20 kg) and coated with vaporised gold to reflect infrared light.

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Hubble discovers moon orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake

26 April 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a small, dark moon orbiting Makemake, the second brightest icy dwarf planet — after Pluto — in the Kuiper Belt. The moon, provisionally designated S/2015 (136472) 1 and nicknamed MK 2, is estimated to be 100 miles in diameter. Makemake and its moon are more than 50 times farther away than Earth is from the Sun.

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Mysterious ripples found racing through planet-forming disc

7 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have discovered never-before-seen moving features within the dusty disc surrounding the young, nearby star AU Microscopii. The fast-moving, wave-like structures are moving at 22,000 miles per hour — fast enough to escape the star’s gravitational pull.

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Extreme starburst in the core of a gargantuan galaxy cluster

11 September 2015 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers has discovered a prodigious galaxy cluster with a core bursting with new stars — an incredibly rare find. This surprising new discovery, the result of collaborative synergy from ground- and space-based observations, is the first to show that gigantic galaxies at the centres of massive clusters can grow significantly by feeding off gas stolen from other galaxies.

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Vagabond supernovae flung into space by binary black-hole slingshots?

16 August 2015 Astronomy Now

A new analysis of 13 supernovae — including archived data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope — is helping astronomers explain how some young stars exploded sooner than expected, hurling them to a lonely place far from their host galaxies. It’s a complicated mystery of double-star systems, merging galaxies, and twin black holes.

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Quasars result from violent galactic mergers

20 June 2015 Astronomy Now

Using the Hubble Space Telescope’s infrared vision, astronomers have unveiled some of the previously hidden origins of quasars, the brightest objects in the universe. A new study finds that quasars are born when galaxies crash into each other and fuel supermassive, central black holes.