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Making galactic history with first global age map of the Milky Way

9 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have created the first large-scale map that shows stellar ages in the Milky Way by determining the ages of nearly 100,000 red giant stars, at distances of up to 50,000 light-years from the galactic centre. Notably, the map confirms that our home galaxy has grown inside out: in the present epoch, most old stars can be found in the middle, more recently formed ones in the outskirts.

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NASA telescopes detect Jupiter-like storm on small, cool star

10 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes have discovered what appears to be a Jupiter-sized star with a colossal, cloudy storm with a diameter that could hold three Earths. The storm rotates around the L-dwarf star known as W1906+40 about every 9 hours and has lasted at least two years, probably longer.

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The Sun could release flares 1,000x greater than recorded

3 December 2015 Astronomy Now

A binary star known as KIC 9655129 observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope is known to produce superflares, thousands of times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun. Research led by the University of Warwick suggests the underlying physics of KIC 9655129’s superflares and solar flares might be the same, supporting the idea that our Sun could also produce such phenomena.

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Looking for artificial radio signals from star system KIC 8462852

6 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Could there be intelligent life in the star system KIC 8462852? A recent analysis of data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope has shown that this star — informally known as Tabby’s Star — displays large, irregular changes in brightness consistent with many small masses orbiting the star in “tight formation”. The SETI Institute trained its Allen Telescope Array on this star for more than two weeks in order to investigate the possibility of a deliberate cause of KIC 8462852’s unusual behaviour.

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Finding new worlds with a play of light and shadow

1 November 2015 Astronomy Now

One method to discover planets beyond the solar system by far is transit photometry, which measures changes in a star’s brightness when a planet crosses in front of its star along our line of sight. NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has used this technique to become the most successful planet-hunting spacecraft to date, with more than a thousand established discoveries. Satellites carrying improved technology for all-sky surveys are now planned, missions that will tell us a great deal about alien planetary systems similar to our own.

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Asteroseismology reveals magnetic fields deep within stars

24 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have for the first time probed the magnetic fields in the mysterious inner regions of stars, finding they are strongly magnetised. Using a technique called asteroseismology, the scientists were able to calculate the magnetic field strengths in the fusion-powered hearts of dozens of red giants, stars that are evolved versions of our Sun.

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Theoretical study concludes most Earth-like worlds have yet to be born

20 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study, when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won’t be over when the Sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets — 92 percent — have yet to be born.

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Dying white dwarf star suffers “irregular heartbeats”

27 August 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers at the University of Warwick analysing data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft have discovered a unexpected anomaly in the ‘pulse’ of aging white dwarf star PG1149+057. In addition to the expected regular rhythm of pulsations, the researchers observed arrhythmic, massive outbursts, which significantly heated up the star’s surface for many hours.