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Interacting galaxies produce eye-shaped “tsunami” of stars

5 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have discovered a tsunami of stars and gas that is crashing midway through the disc of a spiral galaxy known as IC 2163. This colossal wave of material — which was triggered when IC 2163 recently sideswiped another spiral galaxy dubbed NGC 2207 — produced dazzling arcs of intense star formation that resemble a pair of eyelids.

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Astronomers use cosmic voids to study the universe

12 August 2016 Astronomy Now

Researchers who are looking for new ways to probe the nature of gravity and dark energy in the universe have adopted a new strategy: looking at what’s not there. An international team of astronomers were able to achieve four times better precision in measurements of how the universe’s visible matter is clustered together by studying the empty spaces in between.

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Longest-lasting stellar eclipse discovered

18 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Imagine living on a world where, every 69 years, the sun disappears in a near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years. That is just what happens in a newly discovered system, known only by its astronomical catalogue number TYC 2505-672-1, setting a new record for both the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest period between eclipses in a binary star system.

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Possibly the most powerful supernova ever seen

14 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Records are made to be broken, as the expression goes, but rarely are records left so thoroughly in the dust. Stunned astronomers have witnessed a cosmic explosion about 200 times more powerful than a typical supernova — events which already rank amongst the mightiest outbursts in the universe — and more than twice as luminous as the previous record-holding supernova.

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Space telescopes find “twins” of Eta Carinae in other galaxies

6 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, Eta Carinae outshines our Sun by 5 million times. The binary system consists of two massive stars in a tight 5.5-year orbit, shrouded in an expanding veil of gas and dust from an enormous eruption seen in the 1840s. Now a study using archival data from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes has found five similar objects in other galaxies for the first time.

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High-speed flare observed from supermassive black hole eating star

26 November 2015 Astronomy Now

An international team of astrophysicists has for the first time witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light. The scientists tracked the Sun-sized star in the galaxy PGC 43234 some 300 million light-years away as it shifted from its customary path, slipped into the gravitational pull of the supermassive black hole and was sucked in.