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A cosmic winter wonderland

22 December 2016 Astronomy Now

Although there are no seasons in space, this cosmic vista invokes thoughts of a frosty winter landscape. It is, in fact, a region called NGC 6357 where radiation from hot, young stars is energizing the cooler gas in the cloud that surrounds them.

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Potentially habitable super-Earth K2-3d observed transiting parent star

28 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A group of researchers has observed the first ground-based transit observation of K2-3d — a potentially Earth-like extrasolar planet supposedly within the habitable zone around a bright M-dwarf host star 147 light-years away — using the multi-band imager MuSCAT on the Okayama Astrophysical Observatory’s 1.88-metre telescope.

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Microlensing observations with space telescope duo reveals brown dwarf

12 November 2016 Astronomy Now

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, NASA’s Spitzer and Swift space telescopes joined forces to observe a microlensing event, when a distant star brightens due to the gravitational field of at least one foreground cosmic object. This technique is useful for finding low-mass bodies orbiting stars, such as planets. In this case, the observations revealed a brown dwarf.

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Using oxygen as a tracer of galactic evolution

7 October 2016 Astronomy Now

A new study comprised of 7,000 galaxies casts light on how young, hot stars ionise oxygen in the early universe and the effects on the evolution of galaxies through time. The study presents the first measurements of the changing strengths of oxygen emission lines from the present day and back to 12.5 billion years ago.

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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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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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Gluttonous young star may hold clues to planet formation

15 June 2016 Astronomy Now

In 1936, infant star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disc of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness, eating the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disc around it to temperatures of up to 6,650 °C.

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Understanding stellar adolescence through T-Tauri stars

13 June 2016 Astronomy Now

A newborn star typically goes through four stages of adolescence. It begins life as a protostar, accreting material and developing a proto-planetary disc. Slowly, stellar winds and radiation blow away the surrounding shell of gas and dust. Next, when the surrounding envelope has cleared, is called the T-Tauri phase. Finally, accretion stops and the source’s radiation comes from the star’s photosphere.

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Cloudy days on exoplanets may hide atmospheric water

9 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Water is a hot topic in the study of exoplanets, including “hot Jupiters” close to their parent stars that can reach a scorching 1,100 °C, meaning any water they host would take the form of vapour. Hot Jupiters have been found with water in their atmospheres, but others appear to have none. NASA scientists wanted to find out what the atmospheres of these giant worlds have in common.