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.
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.
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.
Dark matter is a mysterious substance composing most of the material universe, now widely thought to be some form of massive exotic particle. An intriguing alternative view is that dark matter is made of black holes formed during the first second of our universe’s existence, known as primordial black holes.
Protoplanetary discs are ‘doughnuts’ of gas and dust surrounding young stars, the sites where planets form over the course of millions of years. Researchers studying the one-million-year-old infant star YLW 16B, some 400 light-years from Earth, were able to determine the distance from the star to the inner rim of its surrounding protoplanetary disc by observing its light echo.
The “Spider Nebula” glows fluorescent green in an infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Nebulae are clouds of interstellar gas and dust where stars can form. The Spider, officially named IC 417, is located about 10,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga.
An international team of astronomers, led by the University of Cambridge, has obtained the most detailed ‘fingerprint’ of a rocky planet outside our solar system to date, and found a planet of two halves: one that is almost completely molten, and the other which is almost completely solid. Exoplanet 55 Cancri e lies 40 light-years from the Sun.
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.
NASA has formalised its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office will be responsible for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterise asteroids and comets that pass near Earth. It will also take a leading role in coordinating efforts in response to any potential impact threats.
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.